II. Faints

Antagonists – Chapter 2 (Explicit)

an ice cream truck parked in a lot at night with some lights shining from it
Kazden Cattapan

WANDERING in the last hot rays of the evening, brother and sister reach an ice cream truck. The truck is parked in the middle of a crosswalk, playing the usual melodic music like from a bedtime story, all the while flashing a red cross on top. It resembles an iceberg in the desert, and no matter how minute the street is to the surrounding city, or how many sun-baked sand specks are upon it, that iceberg won’t budge.

“Heyey,” a whistle and a bang on the door. “¡Camión! I know you are in there.”

“Who is it?”

La policía.

A whispered Holy fuck is heard along with a few shakes and rattles.

Joe and Teresa stand at the wheels of the floating menace. They look up into the window, so dark and hollow it might contain the secrets of void and space altogether. Red baths splash over them in two-second intervals. The window pops open.

“Okay offi —  Aw, Benny, they ain’t no cops! It’s some güey with a little Asian woman.”

“Asian woman? Where?! I ain’t never seen a real Asian woman before.”

“Yes you have! You ‘member Paola?”

“Paola, (are crazy. What Paola?)”

“From school, you remember.”

“Paola Palomina? She was Asian? I thought that was Filipino.”

Teresa chuckles. The men refocus their attention.

“Listen man, you need to keep walking, okay?”

Joe rebuttals, “You’re in a goddamn crosswalk. You need to keep walking … Driving.”

“Hey bro, you got a job?”

“Well, it’s been hard out here for everyone —”

“No, you don’t. Go get a job and you can tell me what to do, okay?”

Joe is bubbling up inside. And that’s not a reaction to his wasp sting.

“I just need to get to a hospital, that’s it.”

“Nah, vato, you don’t wanna go to no hospital. They charge too much.”

“Really?” Joe wonders. “I haven’t been since birth.”

“Yeah, man. You come in here, I fix you up.”

They rattle a little more inside the truck and open the side door. From far away, Joe looks like a poor boy getting into a stalker’s van.

(Come, pues.)

But Teresa is justifiably reluctant.

“I’m not going in there with a guy who thinks I look Asian. He’s clearly demented.”

“You do look kinda oriental,” Joe mentions.

It’s followed by a tap and a Fuck you! and they both enter the truck. It is ominously empty.

“This is … seminal,” says Teresa.

“Woah, woah. (Calm yourself, Chinese girl.) You can’t come in here. Privacy?”

“But you’re not doctors.”

“Just go home or to Remy’s —smelly bastard.”

She walks into the street and says, “I ain’t leaving till I see you come out alive. If you come out dead somebody’s gotta tell Mamá on the same day. ‘Member she said, ‘Come straight to me if one of you dies because I need to bless you on the way to Heaven.’ You know she’s crazy-Catholic and got these weird rules like you know how she makes me brush my teeth after every meal?”

“That’s ‘cuz you have braces,” Joe reminds her.

“Really? I thought it was a Catholic thing. Why don’t you have braces? Your teeth are more jacked up than mine.”

“Can I just get my damn surgery, huh? Can you leave so I can have these foo’s cure me? (Please, sis.) My God!”

Teresa takes another look at the empty interior and the silly truck stopped in that most inconvenient place.

“I’m sure you won’t get helped by these two idiots.”

“Ah, be quiet. You know how much it costs to go to the hospital? Tell her, Doc.”

“One million pesos mexicanos.”

“One million pesos! You got that kinda money to spend, Teresa? I know Mamá don’t.”

“I can’t believe — ”

“At least give me some privacy so we can go home.”

She dips out of sight. The man claiming to be a doctor raises Joe’s sleeve and sticks him in the shoulder with a quick needle. He then presents a gown.

“Time to strip outta that turtleneck.” 

“What was that you just poked me with?”

“Nothing. A sedative. Wear this.” 

“Okay. I don’t know why you’re smiling, but whatever. Let me see in the light … Uh, privacy?”

“Nothing we haven’t seen before.”

“I don’t know …” Joe uneasily scratches his neck. 

“We are professionals,” Benny, the assistant, says with another poisonous smile. Joe consents. The two guys then talk amongst themselves.

“He seems to have been in a period of diapause.”

“I concur. Do you suspect menopause as well?”

“I believe so. And he has a diaphragm as well?”

“I checked, right next to his phalanges.”

With that kind of talk, Joe can’t help but to believe he’ll be all right. The comforting tone of healthcare workers saying indecipherable things juxtaposes nicely with their thrifty cost of service.

“We need to inspect your body.”

Joe stands naked in the empty truck. Benny is rustling through a few drawers. The doctor looks at Joe, unimpressed.

“You bang your Asian girlfriend with that thing?”

As Joe explains about his sister, Benny seems to find what he was searching for. With a rounded power saw held behind him, he performs a signal to the doctor out of Joe’s sight. At once, they pull down a bench from the inside wall and sit Joe down. The doctor starts to strap his patient’s arms in. Benny is just behind them, searching for the batteries to his tool. This is gonna be fun! he whispers to himself.

“Where am I right now?” Joe mutters, finding himself hilarious.

“That’s just the sedative kicking in,” responds the doctor, moving closer to make sure his patient is in no state to interrupt what they are about to do. CLICK, the batteries are in. The buzzing roar of the saw dominates all corners within the truck. Nos vemos …

When the doctor reaches in to check Joe’s diminishing heart rate, he spots something very peculiar behind his ear. Tattooed there is a small red wasp, of all things. Well, that changes plans.

(Turn off, güey.)

(But, what?)

“(Turn it off, already!) He’s one of them.”

The doctor points to the space behind his own ear. The saw immediately cuts off, as Benny seems to understand this gesture. While the tool gets put away, the doctor taps on Joe’s face, urging him to wake up.

“What?! Did I miss the parade?” Joe says.

“Seems like you have a tremor in the lagena due to damage on your cupula.”

“I see — ”

“But you don’t need no surgery, homes. Just an anti-histamine.”

“Look at God.”

“You’re gonna feel a little sting … Oh, nope, sorry, that’s my … my injections I take, you know, to get … Anyway … Here’s yours. All right, just a little sting and, listo. There you go. You’ll be fine.”

“Here’s your clothes,” says Benny, now holding nothing but Joe’s belongings.

Joe slips into them and says, “Thank you guys.”

(Care for yourself.)

Joe exits the truck onto the street. At the moment, no sign of his sister.

“Teresa?”

“Over here!” she yells from the other side of the truck. Joe jogs over and finds her eating a Tear Jerker. “They fix you yet?”

“Yeah, it was pretty easy. I told ya.”

“Good, ‘cuz this tonta over here is taking a long-ass time to — long-fucking time .”

“What did you call me?” asks the person from within the truck (on the current side).

“I said, (‘You can eat me out, fat bitch, daughter of a’—)”

“I can’t understand you!”

“Who is this lady? She sounds country. Not like California country, but lost-in-the-Midwest-somewhere country.”

“I’m from Reno.”

“Huh, we from the same place then.”

The rattling from inside the truck stops.

“Look. You Mexicans need to realize that you can’t just cross the border and take over everythang. Us true Americans work hard to earn a living here, and y’all comes’n change our language. I mean, really, look at a sign in Southern California. You can’t find one that’s not in Spanish ‘cuz ah you damn Mehi-cans. God’s sakes, can’t you just give up? When an able person rules the world again, we will see who runs this country better; a guera like me or a mud-scooter like you!”

She stops to wind down off of her emotive outburst.

“So, stop cussing at me! It ain’t cute anymore.”

“Well, Teresa here is Filipino, so …”

“Oh, shut up.” Her face scrunches up from the sourness of her ice cream. “Why are you in Mexico if you can’t understand Spanish, lady? ‘Cuz we can talk the same shit about you,” Teresa says.

“Well, by that sign, I’d say you’re in Californ-i-a now.”

She points, and at the moment it seems factually true.

“So you — hold on.”

Joe runs to the other side of the truck and asks Benny, “What country am I in?”

Los Estados Unidos—

“Really?”

—de  México.”

“Oh.” 

He runs back and asks the ice cream lady, to which she replies, “The United States.”

“Of what?”

“Of America, dipshit.”

“So, you mean one side of this truck is in America and the other is in Mexico? And it’s a doctor’s clinic?”

“It is? I never knew there was another side,” says the lady.

“Really. Come look.”

The lady dismounts the truck and scrambles with Joe and Teresa to the other side.

“I just got cured by these guys.”

(Hello, gringa. Welcome to Mexico.)

“See, there are Mexicans on this side. How did you even get this job not knowing part of your truck was in another country?” asks Teresa.

“It was a long process. You know, do the interview, sign them dang contracts, get a physical, and oddly I hadda show my passport. Now it all make sense.”

“No! That makes no type of sense! Why should you have to go through a flipping process for being an ice cream truck driver? Hell, you don’t even drive it. You’re just a truck-sitter.”

“I take my jobs very seriously, hun.”

(What a moron.)

“Let’s leave, ‘mano,” says Teresa. “I got to go to work. Plus, Mamá is expecting you to wipe the dishes. It’s getting cold.”

“See, who’s smart for wearing a turtleneck now?”

“Ahh!” cry the doctor and Benny. “He has to do chores, ese!”

“Ah-ha, go do your chores for mommy!”

Still a little loopy, Joe flicks his sister off as they make their way home. The ice cream lady and the faux-doctors notice each other once more.

“Well, it was nice to meet y’all. Just don’t bring any of them Mexican rats over to my side.”

“Can do, señora,” says Benny, rolling his eyes. They make their return to the clinic side.

The lady doubles back to say, “Hey. That was some racket y’all was making a lil’ bit ago. Did I hear a saw?” The crows’ feet around her eyes shift momentarily from spite to worry.

“No, no,” Benny says. “Let’s just say your recent customers almost ran into some peligro, you know? Trouble. But he’s with Poza Roja, and we don’t mess with those goons. Ni modo, ese.”

The lady frowns, concerned, and goes back to her side. The last of the earth’s heat escapes, making way for a cold black night. She steps on a few red droplets of Tear Jerker.

“Goons?”

. . .

Hola. ¿Mamá?

On entry they hear banging from the walls, a wet suctioning noise. Brother and sister look nervously between each other, posing the same fear of what could be. That’s not our Mamá, is it? A few grunts leave the bathroom. Then they prepare. One, two …

“Hey, m’hijo, hija. I’m just plunging this toilet. There’s a snake caught somewhere in the drain. Musta thought he was in hole or something. Think he’s dead now.” 

“Oh, thank God. I guess.”

Yuck.

Curiosity calls on Joe to stay and watch, but Teresa’s face persuades otherwise. She splits, leaving her brother.

“So, you’re ready for work, m’hija?”

“Teresa went to the room. It’s just me.”

“Oh. Well, how was the job search today? You know, this isn’t Reno. We need to make money, (and soon, my love.)”

“I haven’t found nothing yet, but I’m working on it.”

Joe’s Mamá smiles at this.

“You were making good money for a while. Sometimes you quit before you’re ahead, but — Ah, I won’t say nothing.”

Mamá keeps plunging. He is unclear on what exactly will pop out, though clear is his place in the world. Evil. Disgusting. Sick. He knows it will come to surface.

Teresa ventures to the living room, sounds of mangling echo from down the hall.

“Remy!” for lying on the couch is he.

“Damn, don’t yell like that.”

“You hear this mess going on in the bathroom, ¿o no?” she says to Remy.

“Yeah. I’m trying to make it fade away.”

“Oh my God. You’re stoned again, aren’t you?”

“Don’t blame me. It’s my medication. I’m hebephrenic with, uh — borderline personality. (This herb that cures me, vata.)”

“Borderline ? If anything, you’re borderline crazy, and lazy as hell. And you don’t need a doctor to tell you that. I can’t believe you show your face around here after you went and screwed that little guatemalteca. And in our apartment, Remy! The one I was paying all the bills for, so basically, my apartment. You’re such an a-hole, ¿sabías?

“Did we really break up? Everything feels like a dream. I can’t tell what’s real or fake anymore.”

“That’s ‘cuz you’re frigging high, idiot. Besides, the only ‘dream’ you claimed to have was of you cheating, conveniently. Why don’t you go and help your ex-suegra in the bathroom, you bum?”

“Oh. I’m afraid of snakes ‘cuz Medusa was a snake, and she used to turn foo’s into stone,” Remy explains.

“Medusa was not a snake, dumbass. She was a woman — ”

“Wrong, dummy! She’s a myth. She doesn’t exist, dummy. Haha! Dummy.”

Ehhhhya!

A terrifying scream comes from the bathroom. Joe runs out to find Remy and Teresa chatting. He then stops, scratches his ears and breathes heavily.

“Interesting echo in this house,” he says.

“The hell …?”

Mamá follows with the snake clenched in her hand. She smiles over her trophy as it squirms.

“It’s alive!” she yells. “Guess we’ll have meat for the tacos tonight.”

“Who screamed? Was that you, Mamá?” asks Teresa.

“No!” cries Remy, pointing his finger.

“Joe, you scream like an old wrinkly bitch,” Teresa says.

“Come on, it was like I was watching Aliens or something when she pulled it out. I thought it was dead.”

“Whatever, Hoe — ” Remy starts, but Joe cuts him off.

“You better shut the fuck up, cabrón,” he says, ready to pounce at Remy with full force. Before a fight can ensue, Mamá grabs Joe and takes his complaining-behind to her bedroom.

“Jo-oe … What did I say about cursing in my home? This is a devout household.”

“Yeah, but that freak knows how to say the word ‘Joe,’ he’s from freaking Texas! I don’t see how he gets away with calling me a hoe all the time. Hoe, hoe, hoe, like he’s Santa Claus or something, with his fat ugly self. He needs to get a job. And a house.”

“Why are you so hostile?” she asks him sweetly. “I understand your anger, but he’s going through rough times like us all. Besides, you could use both those things yourself.”

“I don’t know, I —”

“Did you take drugs? You look a little off, m’hijo.”

“Hell yeah, I’m off. Not ‘cuz of pills, Mamá. It’s because of that foo’ in there.”

“Well, I know you like wide hips.”

“I mean, I’ll be all right, I — Wide hips?”

Mamá smiles, slipping in, “I saw Emily today. She said you guys passed by.”

“Hu-huh. Yeah.”

“Why you smiling?” she asks, bumping him with an elbow.

“I don’t know.”

“Cheese, cheese, cheese. You look like Chucky-the-Cheese smiling like that.”

“No, stop! You can’t tickle a grown man like that … She was just watering her garden,” Joe says.

“Yeah, she said you helped her water her garden.”

They sit with that possibly gross notion for a few moments.

“You know I worry about you. You never really had a serious girlfriend. Normally I say nothing, but, what am I — “

“No, Ma!”

“I’m just looking out for you.”

They are both pulled by an inclination to look at the doorway exactly half a second before Teresa appears there. She’s dressed in her nursing clothes.

“Going to the hospital. Don’t worry about staying up, I got the keys.” Mamá nods. “Oh. Remy said he’s found a job on the other side of the border. Says he doesn’t need no paperwork, and there’s two open spots.”

“Good. Tell him Joe needs a job.”

Mamá tosses the viscous slitherer into Joe’s arms. He catches it by instinct, squeals like a mouse, and faints.

****

Chapter 3 coming soon

That time I knocked over a Vietnam Vet

Grampa was a rolling stone!

upper middle-aged black man with a hat smiles in laughter
Duncan Sanchez

Some days they’d make fun of funny-looking people, some days they’d laugh at each other.

There was this one time when Neboh’s grandpa came to visit him for a while. Unexpectedly in the process, Neboh ended up knocking down his poor Grampa, as he was called, out onto the hard sidewalk! Let’s take it back. So Grampa had recently found out he had a serious disease, a rare kind of Parkinson’s that was offset from his days fighting in Vietnam. Blame the agent orange. Anywho, the effects were starting to manifest in what would be a long journey against his illness. But … Grampa had another journey in mind.

Neboh and he had talked several times about going to Brazil, hitting the beaches, maybe catching a look at some sexy ladies. Well, Grampa’s balance wasn’t working too well, he had to use a walker at this point. Instead of Brazil then, one day he told Neboh;

“Hey, Neboh! Feel like walking with me up to the store?”

So, there they went. A teenage boy and his 60-something grandpa walking steadily (slowly) on a walker. If there’s one thing teenage boys hate, it’s doing things slowly. Besides it being hot as Southern California in the summertime — because it was Southern California in the summertime — and the grocery store being about a mile away up a steady incline, Neboh couldn’t figure out why Grampa wanted to walk all that way just to get a simple bite to eat. It might’ve just been a soda or something, Neboh can’t even remember. Well, off to the races they waddled.

Okay, they got their soda or whatever it was. Now comes the tricky part of going back downhill. At the time, Grampa was no small man, I mean, he had some size on him still. All that helping him up the inclination had made Neboh pretty worn out. Since the way back was mostly downward, he figured;

I practically pushed him up the whole hill. I think I deserve a little break.

On Grampa’s walker was a little flap seat and a handlebar. Neboh had the bright idea to sit on the bar while Grampa sat on the seat, and he would let the walker roll itself down the hill. Simple as that, right? Yeah. That went wrong real quick. They hadn’t rolled three seconds when Grampa started yelling:

“What are you doing?! Woah, woah, woaaaaa …” CRSSH!

It wasn’t quite like a car crash, but pretty close. The two had landed right in front of some random person’s driveway down onto the concrete. Grampa was rolling this way and Neboh rolled the other, both with their elbows scraped up. As his body rotated over the hard ground, Grampa began to wonder how safe of hands he was in after all, earnestly questioning his grandson’s dumb choices. And it just so happened that a truck was passing by at that very moment. The driver immediately stopped her car (like skrrt) and hopped out of the driver’s seat.

“What are you doing to him? Oh my God!”

The lady was freaked out, to say the least. All she saw was a man, apparently hard of walking, wrestling with a teenager on the floor. She wouldn’t be out of line to assume that Neboh was trying to assault his own grandpa. Despite this, she did help Grampa up and asked if he needed a ride or something nice, completely ignoring Neboh. He said he was fine, and so the lady carried on; Neboh carried off with Grampa. He learned not to ride on the handlebar of a walker ever again 😉


Context, please! So Grampa was a Vietnam vet, as you could tell. I always had great admiration for him, having grown up on the streets of ‘50s-’60s South Central L.A., fought in and survived a horrific war (against his own will), and later went on to become a successful businessman, father, and trend-setter. The man had style. Later we would go to visit him in Tampa Bay with his gorgeous lakeside house and his larger-than-life persona. The disease hit Grampa seemingly from nowhere, as life does for many of us.

The whole story above could foreshadow my and Grampa’s relationship later on. It forced him to move to Los Angeles, which made us a lot closer than we would have been had he stayed in Florida forever. And one man made our time together totally outrageous, Grampa’s caretaker. We’ll call him Mr. B.

Mr. B. had zero (0%) filter and Grampa knew it. I’d go to spend time with the two of them and leave just laughing my face off. Some days they’d make fun of funny-looking people, some days they’d laugh at each other. Some days they’d laugh at the fact Grampa couldn’t swallow his food so well, which would make him cackle even harder and erupt it all out in a fit of laughter onto his clothes. Then there would be jokes about who’d clean it and going to the bathroom and, “Now you’ll have to wipe your own ass, Grampy, I ain’t your momma!” I guess the point is that we made it fun, and there was almost no feeling sorry for him or each other or anyone. That happened in movie theaters, at the beach, at the mall. And all in his wheelchair too, I mean, this man got around more than I did with a fully functioning body at the time!

I was going through deep mental challenges and isolation in those days. Going to visit Grampa was such a cool distraction from that stuff, and it let me get out of my little world. Seeing who he had been and what he had to go through now made me so much more grateful for my health and strength, grateful I grew up in a time where the draft wasn’t enforced, grateful I had someone to look up to like that. My mom was super busy during those days too, and so going to the VA hospital to visit Grampa was a great way to spend time with her and other family members.

Ultimately, no one knows for sure what can happen to us or our loved ones in the future. That’s why all we can do is live up the moments we have while we have them. Grampa’s situation was a terrible one, but we made it an inspiring one through laughter and adventure and storytelling. It was never a dull moment, I assure you of that one. Being a veteran, in general, can be tough. There are all sorts of mental challenges and physical ones, and those guys and gals have gone through more than we can probably imagine. But it helps to focus on the bright side and think of the humor in situations. Asking, What is helpful about this phase I’m in right now? How can I learn from it? It certainly was a beacon for helping me through my comparably mild challenges.

Also, don’t be afraid to make jokes and have fun! Suffering is a part of life, but we’re here to enjoy ourselves. It isn’t over till it’s over, and I’ll always carry that lesson with me. Oh, and that thing about walker handlebars. I’m glad you could come and reminisce about that time …

I. My Throat Clogging Up

Antagonists – Chapter 1 (Explicit Version)

A HAZY sun settles between two ridges splayed like camel humps. Its rays cover the arid sky in a blood-orange liquid blended then spewed out past the unknown. The horizon creates an ether smoldering in gun smoke and gassy fumes. This is the world up in arms against a young pair on the street. They walk, at the same time scared and at peace, cackling loud as possible, as is expected. They are, in a sense, possessed by the time and place they walk in. The magic of these twilight hours affects them as such:

“So, how many girls did you see kidnapped?” she says.

“Wait, wait. You act like I was the one doing the kidnapping. I didn’t have no part of that. Damn, why’s it so damn hot?”

“Maybe if you didn’t wear those turtlenecks all the time— Anyway, I just assumed ‘cuz you were with them—”

“T, let’s change the subject, all right?”

“Whatever. I bet you not gonna say it, though.”

Joe turns to his older sister with sure eyes, cigarette smoking off his ear. She is only challenging him. That’s all she ever does.

“Why you think so? I’m a killer with the ladies.”

“Two hot girls just passed us two minutes ago and you didn’t even bat a eye.” Then in Spanish, (You’re a loser with the chicks, ‘güey’). 

They stroll down La Matanza upon an opportune victim who’s bending over to fill a bucket with water. The effect is of a person gleaming with their face clear and wide at the sky — just trade a wide face for a wide rear end. Joe can’t back down this time. He tugs on his turtleneck.

“Hey, ‘mami’! That’s my favorite position right there!”

Joe calls with a whistle like he’s about to hit a home run. After grabbing his crotch in mockery, he then raises the cigarette to his mouth and nudges his sister.

(Look what passes, Teresa.)

As the woman rises and turns around, both Joe and Teresa gasp. The random behind (turned-face) is actually their well-known …

“Emily?! Is that you?”

She sees that it’s Joe and pours her bucket on the ground in excitement. Nevermind the drought, then.

“Oh, little ‘hombre ’! You want some’a this?”

“No! No, Ma’am. ‘Perdona’, Señora Emily.” Then to Teresa, “Damn, bro, why I always gotta flirt with old bitches?”

She responds, “I wonder the same thing.” Emily gives Joe a wink, and he nearly vomits.

“Haha! If you want it, ‘papacito’, I can do this position all-day-long!”

She licks her lips. Joe starts running.

“Why are you — ?”

“Come on, ‘conmigo’ … Hurry!”

They both run away as Teresa stomps, balling in laughter.

“I was gonna be sick, yo.”

“That’s your own damn fault, Joe,” she says as they decelerate upon a bridge. Catching their breath, the siblings lean over on its barrier. They rest above what should be a canal, now dry but of what looks like a few sorry streams of urine.

Joe points his finger in her face.

You the one who dared me! Look, I need to get buzzed with Remy tonight. This is too much.”

Oy, Mamá’s not going to like this.”

“That’s why you don’t tell Mamá, all right?” says Joe. They hear a dull moan resounding in the area … somewhere.

“If you’re going to get drunk, I’m getting drunk too.”

“Nah, you don’t wanna do that. Don’t you have to work at the hospital tonight?”

“Ahh, I always work, though. I wanna have some fun. And why should I? They pay me scraps for what I was making up in Cali. I don’t know why the hell we moved to this dump,” says Teresa to her brother.

“Well, you don’t wanna hang with Remy. Number one, guy is bad news. He eats this mixture of ‘cucarachas’ and ‘chicharrones’ every morning with sour milk. His breath stays kicking.”

“I don’t give a fuck about what he eats! It’s not like I’m gonna kiss that foo’.”

“Now I can imagine you kissing him. Yuck! … With both of y’all’s bad breaths. I’m gonna be sick again.”

She gasps for effect. “You forget that I can’t stand Remy, after what he did to me? He deserves to get his little ‘pitito’ cut into pieces and fed to the coyotes. Jerk.”

“Damn, now you sound like the thugs I was working for.”

“That’s not true,” she replies, socking him on the deltoid. “I still can’t believe you just walked out on the fricking cartel. Like, that could be a issue, right? Don’t you put me and Mamá through enough hard times?”

“Put you through? What about me, Teresa? I’m the one that’s gotta sleep at night, then wake my ass up to look for work. ‘¿Sabes qué?’ I’m not even scared of those creeps. I’m more terrified of the chance of having a stinky ‘cucaracha’-muncher in my life. I mean, if you marry that guy, I gotta smell his breath every single day. That’s the worst punishment in hell right there.”

Joe gets distracted.

“I told you I wasn’t going to kiss him. I’m not no ratchet.”

“Shh! Yo, you hear that?”

They stop to listen carefully.

“What the heck is that?”

They look at each other, then down into the concrete trenches.

“’Holaaaaa’,” he says, echoing into the walls of that excuse for a canal below them.

More moans.

On one side at the bottom lies a darkly dressed — raggedy dressed — man who appears to have several open wounds to the head. He also won’t stop moaning.

“Oh.” Joe looks back to Teresa. “It’s just a homeless guy.”

(Poza-a. Fear, the Poza Roja,) the man babbles, then repeats. Teresa turns to her brother, puzzled.

“Poza Roja?” she mutters. “What the hell … ? Weirdo.”

They continue walking towards the fiery horizon.

“So yeah, like I said, I ain’t afraid of no cartel.”

“Are you sure about that? ‘Cuz it looks like they just ran out of places to dump bodies. All in the canals and shit.”

“Oh, definitely not. Remy is way worse than they could ever be.”

A truck buzzes past them on the road headed to the border. Teresa catches a glint as it flashes off the metal doors … or off some other piece of metal on the inside.

. . .

Brother and sister carry on till they reach a break in the fog where the sun can really influence their skin. A few gangsters and girl traffickers walk ahead of them insipidly. Of all the commotion at the moment, Joe takes the most notice in a trail of red ants on the sidewalk. He pulls on Teresa’s hood to disallow her murdering any of them.

“What?!” she yells, heavily disturbed by the content of the tug, and, to say, its randomness. “The hell is wrong with you?”

Joe looks struck, as if her reaction was coated by some weird amphibology. She pushes him back, and he points at the ground. “Ant lives matter too.”

She looks to the concrete and finds the large ants.

“Can’t you see those?” Joe asks.

“I can’t believe I missed them.”

“I can. You’re always talking too damn much.”

“Well they’re big as a German shepherd. If I stepped on one, it might fight me for a bone.”

“They’re like little people,” Joe says heartily, stroking his sister’s hair. Teresa herself is surprisingly consensual in the matter. “Well, not that kind of little people.”

“Grab me a cudgel so I h-whoop your be-hind!”

“See? They even talk like people,” cries Joe. “It’s like they have their own weird dialect.”

“Grab me a stick, foo’!”

“I can almost hear them talking to my soul.”

“No, ‘mano’, that’s Emily again.” Joe looks up from the ants and sees Emily passing by on a shaved-ice cart.

“Oh, hey Señora Emily. Started your fifth job today, I see.”

“You the one better be looking for a job, ‘mijo’. Your Mamá and Teresita here cannot do it all, you know. And take that turtleneck off! It’s too hot, ‘por Dios’.”

“Joe knows he’s a bum, Ms. Emily.” Teresa laughs. “(And don’t worry yourself.) We weren’t fighting. Just saving some ant-people, right? All the bugs are starting to come out this time of day.”

“Well, you know they got all kind of crazy insects out here. Just like the ones those ‘Locas’ Rojas or whatever use on their neck. What’s it called? Ahh … Yellowjackets!”

. . .

I was born in a humble chamber, nothing too high-class. Even as a little larva I constantly heard my mother, Queen of queens, explain how free the world is for a yellowjacket like me. Her voraciousness pushed me to work as soon as my legs grew in. Tough times.

I never knew my father, never wanted to. Mother’s own melancholy and greed killed her, and I promised myself within those early days that I’d never end up like her; so powerful, so delusional — so vain.

Growing up was hard. I was always picked on for being slightly off-yellow while my peers were golden and pure. My black was deep, however. I was known as little Jet. I gathered myself one day, gleaming in a bright new exoskeleton, still soft upon my flesh.

I had a stinger! And wings! I was ready to fly from all my problems, to live on my own as an independent wasp. I tried to remember all the positive mother, Queen of queens, had taught me, and I vowed to go where none of my kind had ever gone before. I fled that wonderful phantasm of a world I call home, and I ventured out over many fields every day.

Some days were hard. When it poured, I made refuge in a hole in the sand. It would rain and the wind would blow, but victory was my savior. Screw their clan! I’ve got my own clique. I was determined to stay alive and to take care of my own hide.

In the throes of hunger, I found a man half dead and ate some of him. He was a goner, so I knew I could get away with it and survive. And such good feed he was! Flesh was such a marvelous surprise, an, an elixir in my mandibles! Before long, I came upon a man with a similar half-dead appearance, though his neck was guarded to the brim.

Expressing my new infatuation with digging holes and eating meat, I found a hole on him. But if he were to swat at me? Oh, I could surely sting him. Just stick “one of these” right in him. Then he’d stop. Perfect plan!

And so I closed in upon him, aiming for the hole. It would be him or me, and I bore total faith that it was going to be …

“’Puta! — madre—’

(‘Güey’, what passed?) asks Teresa as her brother swings an arm at his own ear.

“A dang bee just tried to fly in my ear. Got bug juice all in there. Damn.”

“Ho-o, really? Let me see.”

Joe shows her the bits and niblets of the insect that were spread out on his hand.

“It’s gross.”

“Yeah, that’s sick, bro. And your ear’s knotted up too. It looks like those yellowjackets Emily was talking about,” she says.

“You think it stung me? I mean, what if I’m allergic? Could I die?”

An old red Impala pulls up slowly playing Grupera followed by a honking trailer behind it.

“Ey,” a whistle, “Come on. (¡’Jale’! What are you doing, ‘huevón’?)

The guy and gal in the red car pay him no mind. More honking. Joe starts to itch his neck. Then his ear.

“Maybe I should ask somebody … you know, about this sting,” suggests Joe, nodding at the couple. Nearly getting hit by the angry trailer, he crosses the road to the cruising Impala. As he approaches, he spots the driver’s hand under the female companion’s skirt.

Joe clears his throat. “Is that safe, homes?”

“Ay, ‘carajo’—”

He quickly removes his hand from its pleasant former location and raises it high.

“Sorry, uh, officer. I wasn’t doing anything. Of course, driving.” The driver embellishes his performance with a nervous grin and a wink.

“I’m not ready!” the lady starts before breaking into tears. “I’m not ready to go to jail! Ahhh! How did they know you were rolling, Enrique?”

Shh! Hey, I didn’t tell nobody. Why you blaming me, huh?”

“Well, how else would they know, ‘chingado’? I am a good girl, never done anything to nobody. Tell him that.”

“I mean, that’s a lie. You done plenty of bad things to me,” says Enrique.

“…”

“Bitch, you almost got me killed last week in a fight over your ‘culito’.”

“No I didn’t!”

Culitoooooooooo …

“Would you let me fucking— ?”

¡Culitoooooooooo!

“Ah, shut up, you baby,” she hisses.

(You shut yourself, with your little culi— )

“Guys, look. I’m not no cop,” Joe says. He motions with his hands for them to be silent. Enrique flinches, fearing he might pull a gun.

“(Woah, like this no.) I can’t go out like this!”

“I am not no cop, dummies.”

“Thank God!” says the lady. The green in her eyes catches Joe’s in an instant. He looks down, embarrassed.

“Not a …” Enrique pulls out a rifle from the car floor.

“Homes, I should kill your ass,” he says, aiming at Joe’s head.

“Hey! Heyey, what are you doing?” Teresa yells from the sidewalk. A touch of fear shakes in her timbre.

“(Wait, sis.) Just hold up. Don’t budge.”

“But this fucker is pointing a fucking gun at you!”

“Shut up! Shut the fuck up! I know what it is.” Joe starts shaking.

“You’re crazy, man, ‘¿sabes?’ Real crazy with that chick over there calling me names,” the man in the Impala tells Joe.

“I can’t control her. You know what I mean?”

“Well, you better turn into God real fucking fast, motherfucker.”

“Just chill, (all tranquil).”

“I ain’t gonna chill, homes! I will shoot your head off right here.” A beat. (What is it with your neck, ‘cabrón’?)

“Wait, ‘vato’, wait. Lemme scratch. I got stung by a yellowjacket.”

The lady in the car leans forward to hear better.

“A yellowjacket? (Is like, ‘este’… a wasp?)”

“Yeah, you know those?”

The lady taps her driving companion and tells Joe, “You need to go to the hospital, homes. See if you are allergic. You don’t want your face to swell up or nothing.”

“Thank you! That’s literally all I came to ask,” Joe says, peeved and a bit shaken.

“Sure. I’ll see you around,” she says, waving at him as if seizing the air in her fingers, or clawing it with her excessive nails.

“Yo, V, how do you know about yellowjackets?”

Joe walks away before he can hear “V’s” answer. In a fit he yells, (Ah, but you don’t wait!) at the honking trailer. 

“You all right?” asks Teresa. “All I could hear was ‘culito’.

“They need couple’s therapy, for sure.”

“I asked, are you all right?”

They had barely escaped a close, albeit weird, encounter with a wild man and his gun. Things are quieter now. 

Every organism can feel the sun’s absence at once as it dips behind the hills. The toxic red sky turns to a venomous purple. But there was still one more danger to resolve.

“Where’s the hospital? I feel my throat clogging up.”

****

Chapter 2 coming soon

society + Coming to America [1988] – What’s it say about us?

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Popcorn anyone? Candies? We are back at The Movies! This time we are going to look at a classic, “an oldie but a goodie” you might say. Where else can you find African warriors, an obvious McDonald’s ripoff and Arsenio Hall in a wig? That’s right, we’ll look at one of the funniest movies of all time and see what it has to say about our good and friendly Americans. Ready to read?

*There may be spoilers here if you haven’t watched the movie yet, but, I mean, 1988.

Zamunda on the map, from Jungle Maps

Now, I know this movie’s a little old. For those who don’t know, the sequel finally came out this year (2021), cleverly named Coming 2 America, and has many of the same cast members as the original. That title alone tells you how much we love puns and double meanings in the U.S., particularly when it comes to naming stuff. The movie is worth a look on Amazon Prime, but I’ll leave a link to the trailer here in case you don’t pay for that service … yet. The first movie has countless jokes that plenty of people reference to this day. It wasn’t just an American success either since this movie and its crazy scenes have fans from all over the world. Despite the fact that the story follows a young African prince — of Zamunda to be exact, please check your nearest map — and his royal assistant who basically tour New York in order to find a princess, the movie itself has a lot to say about our U.S. of A. And what better way to do this than to start with Africa?

The nation of Zamunda is like one of those ongoing jokes about Americans not knowing geography. Now, it is pretty common for filmmakers to come up with a fake name for countries in their movies, but Zamunda sounds like one of the answers you’d get from a classmate after a teacher asks them, “Name a country in Africa.” I know, Zamunda! It just sounds African, even if it isn’t real, and that’s why it sheds some light on American culture. Many people (around the world, but especially in America) don’t know much about Africa at all. You might be surprised just how little many African Americans know about Africa. Zamunda was meant to be fictitious, but I bet you there were many people that thought it was real, and as a matter of fact, probably still think so.

Stepping off the plane in Zamunda, Photo by Frans Van Heerden on Pexels.com

Not to speak poorly of my fellow citizens, to be fair, there are many who know a lot about geography. But, I’m going to go ahead and say that most of us don’t. Poor geography skills aside, the movie says some other things about our view of Africa. It was admirable that they chose to show African royalty as opposed to poverty, and the royal family is very wealthy in the movie. Coming to America stars pretty much all black people too which is appropriate for a movie about Africans, though this has not always been the case. The movie came out at a time when black people were really growing in their pride and interest in African heritage, and this trend has swept over black American culture ever since. In Zamunda we can still see lots of random animals you might find on a safari just running around the palace. This plays on the idea that many Americans have this view as if Africa is full of lions, elephants, giraffes, and whatnot. Many people think you can step off a plane and see a rhinoceros, for example. It goes the same for other countries, like some people believe Brazil is all Amazon or Australia is all kangaroos. Don’t blame the people, blame our T.V. … and Kangaroo Jack, of course.

Many people’s image of what Africa is like (sorry for the moon), Photo by Faris Munandar on Pexels.com

Americans perceive that it is hard for foreigners to speak and understand English the way it is used naturally. Even for Zamundans, a nation that speaks English, cultural differences create a big gap. We see several scenes where Akeem (that’s Eddie Murphy) has hilarious misunderstandings with people because of the way he talks. Often, foreigners learn English in formal schools and their speech sounds very proper to us here. This explains why they had Akeem embarrassing himself so much. He’s also a skilled warrior and fights with spears, which is a sort of stereotype about Africans being wild and hunting with old weapons. Some rural or hunter-gatherer communities do, but most Africans aren’t quite as skilled as Akeem is with the spear.

Soul Glo & the Jheri curl

Going back to ’80s trends, that Soul Glo hairspray stuff has some major moments in the movie. The Jheri curl is the hairstyle that this spray makes, and it was fairly popular, especially among black people in the late ’80s to early ’90s. You had some ladies in tight bikinis, which relates to a sort of sexual revolution that was going on at the time, starting in the ’60s and getting more and more, um, liberated, up until modern times. And talk about that crazy pastor and the “Sexual Chocolate” guy! Most pastors and reverends are decent people, but you do get some bad eggs every once in a while. That creepy one in the movie references these “bad” pastors who care too much about money, yelling loudly, and watching half-naked women. Despite that stuff, you do still see many pastors who speak in the same style that he does. “Yess-uh, I wanna thank yah Lawd, uh-yas Lawd!” I don’t know where this style came from, but it’s very common for pastors to talk like this, especially in black churches in the South or smaller cities.

You know it’s a barbershop when you see this, Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

Another part of the movie I want to talk about is New York. They spend most of the movie in Queens, a borough of New York City. Queens during the ’80s and before was known for having lots of black people and being sort of a poor neighborhood. Queens still has some rough parts, I hear (I mean I am from Los Angeles…), but it also has lots of nice neighborhoods nowadays. In the movie you see people throwing trash out their windows, cursing at each other, and people robbing each other. New York is fairly safe now, but before the 9/11 attacks some parts of the city were a lot more dangerous. The barbershop scenes are very important since they are seen as key parts of black communities. All communities have barbershops, but in black communities they are places of communion where people go to hear local news, talk with friends, and tease each other. So it’s really a family atmosphere. Hair has always been really important for black people, and hair care is a big deal for us. Remember that when you visit, and please don’t touch anybody’s weave, wig, afro, braids, or Jheri curl. Well, you can cut off their Jheri curl, I approve.

In the last post on Doctor Sleep, we saw lots of big houses and how they represent the modern American home. However, in big cities and especially in lower-class areas, there are lots of apartments like the ones in the movie; small, dirty, ugly, with neighbors who are noisy or kind of grouchy. In big cities you can see more angry people who are in a rush too. I’ve heard from several foreign people who visited New York and thought Americans weren’t nice people. Remember that New York is just one place and it’s the biggest city, so you get lots of stressed people all having to live on a couple of congested islands. Still, mean and nice people can be found anywhere you go.

The most-played sport in America, Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Akeem watches basketball and tries to talk about American football, which are the two main sports in the U.S. He gets a little confused by the rules which is a normal thing. We also see Akeem and his friend, Semmi (Arsenio Hall), interact with several promiscuous women, including his future wife Lisa’s sister. This might relate to how American or Western women in general are seen as more sexually open than Eastern and African women. That’s why this was sort of a culture shock to the African prince, and it is actually a good point made by the movie. I can’t say too much else. McDowell’s is an obvious ripoff of McDonald’s, but many successful companies and products have come as a ripoff of another product. McDonald’s itself used the idea of two brothers in California to create a worldwide enterprise, and didn’t even change the name. Ah, the things you learn from Netflix.

That’s it people! Thanks for reading. If you want to practice your writing skills, you can answer these questions in the comments:

  1. Do you like the movie Coming to America? What about the sequel?
  2. Have you ever felt like Akeem when traveling to another country? Did you travel for love too?
  3. What is your favorite part of this movie?
  4. Would you rather live in Queens or Zamunda?

Cash apology – “sorry” and slang terms for “money” meanings & uses

Terms: sorry / for money (cash, bricks, bands, bag, dough, etc.)

I sure like counting all this money.

Charles had his hands full of dollars of the U.S. variety. Not because he was rich, no! Are you crazy?

—It must be fun to work in the financial department. You get to take that money home and count it? Touch all on it. Dang, sounds like heaven to me!

Jonah was watching him with a hunger.

—Can I just touch one … well, a couple of them?

—No, Sir-ee! This is not my money, bro. If it was I wouldn’t let you touch it, either, but my life is on the line if I get fired. Sorry, can’t do it.

—Well! I don’t know why you work at that sorry theater on the side. If I was you, I’d be happy to sit here and count money all day.

Charles looked around at the blank white walls, felt the absence of an air conditioner, heard the BLUGUG of a bubble descend from their giant jug of nasty water.

—I would die if I worked here all the time. The theater is a good distraction. Plus, I like drama.

—Heck, there’s plenty of drama right here on campus.

They both laughed at that fact.

—Hey, what did you mean by “sorry?” I didn’t get why you would apologize for me working with plays.

Jonah scratched his chin.

—No, bro. Sorry, as an adjective. It just means that something sucks, basically. It’s low quality, not good. Like if you buy a car that’s old and raggedy and is halfway falling apart. That’s a “sorry” car. Look at me, sounding all smart!

—Uh-huh. Thanks for the clarification, said Charles.

Fasho. Yeah, man. I was you, I would stay here and count stacks all day. Maybe slip a wad into my pocket.

Charles’s fingers stopped moving. His eyes tilted up. What did that guy just say?

—Guy, what did you just say? Stack? Wad? What in the world?

Jonah jumped up eagerly.

—Oh man, I’m about to learn you! I mean, teach you, of course. Look, Charlie; stacks and wad are both money. You ever seen a stack of something? Pancakes, maybe? Well, replace the pancakes with bills and that’s how you get “stacks.” As for wad, you just need to picture a handful of cash. Wad can be a small bundle of anything, though. Cash, you probably know, is money too. Hehe.

—Yeah, Charles said, —I knew cash. That’s the only one I knew, actually. What other words do you all have for money?

His fingers went to counting the dollars again. Jonah continued to rant excitedly about his favorite topic.

—Oh, that’s easy! I said stacks, so you got racks and bricks if you’re really making money. “Racks” are like shelves, so I guess if you made racks, you could just stack them on a big shelf. “Bricks” are like those red things you use to build a house, but they’re thick like a stack of money. What else? You got bands, figures, green. “Green” is obvious, ‘cus of the color. “Figures” mean digits. If you make 5 figures, that’s making a five-digit salary. Anywhere between 10,000 and 99,999. Same for 6 figures, 10 figures, and so on. A band is a thousand bucks, and bucks are money. You have to hold a thousand together with a rubber band, which is probably why they call it that. Same with a grand, or a G for short. That means a thousand bucks too. You probably have a few “G’s” in your hands right now!

Charles bulged his eyes.

—Wow, that is a lot. Any more?

Jonah continued, —Let’s see. You got loot, dough… “Loot” used to be treasure for pirates in the old days. “Dough” is what you make bread out of. Oh, and bread is another one. Hmm, guap and cheese are money, and bank is if you make a bunch of money. Like, “I made bank today.” “Cheese” like cheese slices at the grocery store. Some people say cheddar to be more specific. “Guap,” I don’t know. It sounds like guapo, or “handsome” in Spanish. Maybe like a handsome sum of money? Who knows. And don’t forget the bag. If you get “the bag,” you’re making good money. And … that’s all I got.*

Charles’s face fell stunned.

—Wow, you are an expert in something. I just can’t believe there are so many words for… and he waved a fistful of cash.

Jonah paused.

Never thought about it. I blame rap music. So, how many bands you got?

Charles checked.

—Let me see… There are about 5 G’s right here. I only got through this one stack.

—Well, you better start counting!

Charles laughed.

—I would if someone didn’t keep distracting me! And you’re right; all this money does make my other job look sorry.

Jonah chuckled and put his baseball cap on.

—That’s okay. I hear actors and playwrights get bank too.

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  • With so many ways to talk about money, it can be hard to choose which word to use! Some words like cash are more common overall. Other words are used in more specific situations. For example, bag or bank are more common when talking about making money, while G’s and bands are for talking about quantities of money. When in doubt, use the words you hear being used most around you. I sure don’t use all of these on a daily basis! What is your favorite money slang?

*The language used in this dialogue is meant to reflect how different Americans might express themselves. Significant incorrect grammar or sensitive words will be underlined for reference.