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Brooklyn and Mednik - Happy Times

It is the duty of a Historical Storyteller to present all particulars, no matter how seemingly unimportant to the reader

By Tommy Villalobos
Published on LatinoLA: May 21, 2010


Brooklyn and Mednik - Happy Times


Only a chifle away from the corner of Brooklyn and Mednik perched on Mednik sat the tiny bar called Happy Times. Classic cars motored down Brooklyn Avenue, one of the main links between Los Angeles and all points east. Those Classics were '39 Studebakers,'51 Fords, '53 Mercurys, '49 Plymouths and '52 Chevys. Felix Sue??aso did not consider them Classics as he made his way to the Happy Times bar, which also sat directly across the street from the row upon row of jointed housing called the Maravilla Housing Projects.

The corner is now Cesar Chavez Avenue and Mednik Avenue. Back then, it was Brooklyn and Mednik. It was the 1950's in East Los Angeles.

The Kern bus had just dropped Felix off in front of the drugstore on the corner of Brooklyn and Mednik. He was in a hurry to get in a Hamm's beer or three before visiting his latest flame, Olga Rido. Olga expected him in her living room to listen in rapture to her poetry. After the beers, he thought, he would rush home to wash away the factory sweat, replacing it with the scent of Old Spice. This would allow him to edge close to Olga while she spouted her hexameters or parameters or whatever it was she called them. He had only precious moments to pack in the few beers that would underwrite him through her poetry. The payoff was that he could ogle at her slim, curve-filled form, allowing Olga to believe he was in the aforementioned rapture over her lines of rhymes.

Felix opened the screen door and poked his head into the darkened bar before entering, holding his head in place like a ripe melon for anyone to touch and squeeze. This was a precautionary step, which allowed him to turn and run should the bar contain certain individuals whose company he avoided. He entered cautiously. Only the owner-bartender Flavio Cert?¡n's gold teeth smiled at him from behind the bar in the relative darkness. Felix one day would advise Flavio to stick his gold-teeth filled head into a safe at night, feeling a head with that much gold in it was too valuable to be left out. As his eyes adjusted further, Flavio's craggy features and generous mustache became evident. Felix made out a bar stool and headed for it like a seal spotting a water hole in the Sinai. Flavio set a Hamm's before him.

Just as Felix brought his beer to his mouth, the screen door burst open with a clatter. Felix jumped as if stung by a chinche. This was followed by a thud as a body of bulky constitution slammed into the bar. Felix jumped once more as if stung by a second chinche. The body of bulky constitution then struggled to right itself but crashed into several stools, making Felix jump as if stung by a third chinche that had the first two chinches' backs. There was that brief silence that follows every loud explosion. Then there was that grunt that fellows every silence that follows every loud explosion.

"Hey, I think I recognize that quejido," Flavio said. "Is that you Victor?"

"Sim??n," groaned the body of bulky constitution that was Victor Cojalles, the most opportunistic huevo ever to put on a pair of calcos and hit the pavement of Maravilla.

"What are you doing?" Flavio asked, believing in maintaining a firm hand on all activities in his bar.

"I'm having a fall in case you were looking the other way," Victor said, catching his breath, dignity and balance.

"I thought you were aplastado."

Felix kept his head down, hoping Victor would not recognize the top of his head. Victor had a flair for getting Felix involved in his life. He was hoping to blend in the darkness and sneak out. His hopes rose when he saw Victor head for a stool at the other end of the bar.

"I haven't had a sip. I tripped on the step you have," Victor said. "Why do you have one-step? That's like having one tooth. Might as well get rid of it. I'll take a Pabst."

Felix prayed to heaven to strike Victor temporarily blind so he could enjoy one more beer then leave. He did not want to listen to another of Victor's quejas about what someone did to him and about how that someone should be buried alive and upside down in the gully.

Felix was able to get only one full swallow of beer before he heard, "?ôrale!" bounce off the walls. "If it isn't the vato from the Projects. Did you see the accident I almost had coming in?"

"Almost?" Felix said. "You had one and it was noisy a la fregada. You need to visit Vic Tanny's."

"Vic Tanny's? The gym? I'm healthy. I'm glad you saw me."

"Not likewise."

"I'm glad we agree. Last time you said you never wanted to see me again. You said I should go to the top of the City Hall and jump. If I didn't break the first time, to go up and give it the old college try and jump again."

"I also told you your spine needed to be pulled out of you so that you could crawl around. That way people could get a better idea of who you are."

"Yeah, you said that too."

"You bet I did. My blood was boiling nearly out of my ears."

"For no reason."

"No reason? You borrowed one-hundred dollars with the promise to pay me back before Mother's Day, which came and went. I couldn't buy my mother a new washing machine."

"I thought you said Father's Day."

"Why would I buy anything for someone who only pokes his head into my life once a year?"

"That's what I thought but didn't want to hurt your feelings."

"I wouldn't believe anything you tell me even if I know it's the truth."

Victor gave it a thought but then attributed it to Felix's boiling blood that must have also scorched his brains.

"I couldn't go to work," he said. "My weesa Gladys told me to put my head in an incinerator at the Projects next time they're burning trash."

"Don't put it off."

Victor thought and since this statement made no sense to him, he again attributed it to Felix's baked brains. He continued his latest queja.

"I gave Gladys a pair of earrings."

"A toda madre! Every vato should give his true love a steady stream of baubles." Felix waved for another beer.

"Sure but the problem was that I gave her someone else's earrings and now they want them back."

"How selfish of them. Nowadays it's every man for himself."

"In this case, every T?¡a for herself."

"You stole them from a T?¡a?"

"I didn't steal them," Victor said offended. "I borrowed them. My T?¡a Marta wasn't looking when I took them. Besides, I never saw her wear them earrings. They're green and kind of heavy."

"Well, you sort of have to hang around females for stretches to get an idea of what makes their heads spin and their hearts skate." Taking another swallow of his beer, Felix continued:

"Take my Olga. I never figured her to read poetry."

"She reads poetry?"

"And writes it."

"How come?"

"I don't know. Maybe something happened to her when she was little. Maybe someone smashed her favorite doll or put gum in her pelo."

"Yeah, when my cousin Celia was little, her parakeet was let loose from its cage and flew away. She took up the guitar and still sings about it."

"Man, who would do that?"

"My cousin, I just told you."

"No, let her bird out. What a jackass."

"I did. She threw my baseball mitt into the sewer."

"Why would she do that?"

"I broke her favorite doll. I stepped on it as I went to lower the sound of the TV. They were singing the Howdy Doody song and that song me aweeta, ese. Anyway, back to Gladys. My T?¡a got me to admit I took the earrings, told me I had a cabeza llena de manteca, and told me to get them back or she would make sure I would go down in Cojalles family records as the 'Shameful Ladr??n' and would not deed me the house she owns in El Monte."

It is the duty of a Historical Storyteller to present all particulars, no matter how seemingly unimportant to the reader, or the Storyteller, and it was with that purpose in mind that I have presented the foregoing exchanges between Felix and the well-nutritioned Victor. What next transpired and moved the events forward was that Victor proceeded to buy beer for Felix, plying him with enough cerveza so that Felix slurred his allegiance to Victor's efforts to retrieve the earrings from Gladys and return them to his T?¡a Marta. Thereafter, Victor assisted Felix home, depositing him at the front door by leaning him against it, giving the door several hard knocks then scurrying away, or at least as close to scurrying away that a three-hundred pound individual can come to. Felix's mother opened the door to a son who had left that morning with a neat, starched shirt and spine and returned a jellyfish soused in alcohol. His two brothers and two sisters had to assist their mother in transporting him to his bedroom.

Next thing Felix was aware of was his mother opening the door at ten a.m. to announce the arrival of Victor. Slits of sunlight were sneaking into his darkened room, fighting to enter his life with a horde of slits of sunlight hovering behind, ready to torment his head and impel it to an effort of secession from the rest of him for unkind treatment.

"Do you want me to tell him to come back?" his mother said.

"I have to get ready for work."

"It's Saturday."

"Oh, yeah. I'm supposed to go on a picnic with Olga."

"She came. She said don't bother. She also wanted you to stick your head somewhere or jump off of something but said she wouldn't get into details since I was your mother."

Felix, not only suffering a heavy head but also a weighty heart, made his way to the front door. Victor's massive frame covered the small front stoop. Felix looked at Victor and could only think how much he appeared to be a hippopotamus basking on the mud banks of the Nile. Victor turned to look at Felix and, in turn, thought, "An upright corpse, but an upright corpse que me puede ayudar."

"I just came back for my promise," Victor said as he rose after several noble efforts.

"Promise? What promise?" Felix said.

"You promised the party of the first part, yo, that the party of the second part, usted, would get the earrings from Gladys so I could give them back to a party of the third part, T?¡a Marta. She's snorting hot air out of her nose. She wants her earrings or my orejas."

"Chale! I'm not going to snatch anyone's earrings."

"Oh, and I want you to get them from Olga, not Gladys. You're around her all the time."

"Huh?"

"Olga has the earrings. I saw her for about two weeks after Gladys and I broke up for the fourth time."

"And you gave the earrings to her? Then how come you told me Gladys had them?"

"I forgot that Olga ended up with them. One night, Gladys got mad because I ate a cake she had made for her father's birthday. I thought it was for me. Anyway, she threw me out then threw the earrings at me. They landed on my head. Let me tell you, that hurt, ese. So I go over to Olga's house and give them to her because she winked at me day before at the El Puerto Market."

"Olga is friendly."

"She winked with one eye then the other, then back to the first. That's beyond friendly That's beyond ojitos. She wanted me forever."

"Then she spent time with you and discovered she didn't want you for even a few moments. If you gave the earrings to Olga, that's your problem."

"I was getting somewhere with Olga until her three brothers, the malvados, showed me to the door when I put my hand around her. And they warned me never to hurt her feelings or they would jump me and pull my feet up through my throat."

"Is that what they said?"

"Yeah. And the youngest one, Leo says, 'I know it sounds bad, but we kind of like hurting people.'"

Felix sat on the porch. He had heard about the infamous trio, loonies from a one of a kind bin. Up to now, he had managed to avoid them. Victor studied the concern on Felix's face.

"Your mother told me," Victor then said, "you stood up Olga twice within twenty-four hours. She also told me Olga was upset. And real hurt." He let the words sink in. "But I just remembered. I played softball with the oldest one, Lanzo. We shared a few beers. He's a camarada."

"Oh, yeah?" Felix said, hope and color returning.

"Yep, I can tell them to 'Heel' before they break any major bones in your body."

"How about any bones?"

"For that, it'll cost you."

"Cost me what?"

"A pair of green earrings."

Therefore, Felix, in the interest of preserving bones, followed Victor's plans. He was to visit Olga, apologize, listen to her poetry, then lift the earrings while she and her brothers weren't looking. Next day, Felix showed up at Olga's door toting flowers and a box of chocolates from the botica on the corner of Brooklyn and Mednik. Victor had to assure Felix that he would speak to Lanzo to prevent a surprise attack.

Felix was set to knock when a voice behind him made him jump upward an inch maybe two. The Voice said, "What do you want, ese?" It was Leo. He stepped closer as if resolving that it was wasteful to spend time waiting to debone someone. One should attend to the chore without any hemming and hawing.

"I came to see Olga," Felix said while planning escape routes.

Leo paused as if to contemplate the cut of the deboning rather than any hesitancy on his part to debone, and then said, "Why did you come to see her?"

"Bring her flowers so she can recite more poetry," he said, thrusting the proof toward Leo in case he was nearsighted.

Leo went to the door, opened it, pronouncing into the house, "Hey, Olga, someone wants to talk to you."

"What do you want?" Olga said appearing at the door after a short while.

"That's what Leo wanted to know."

"Well, what did you tell him?"

"I came to hear your poetry. And I'm glad you didn't tell your brothers how I left you high and dry two days in a row."

"I did. They said that it was their busy season, being spring and all. They said they could work you in and over as soon as feasible."

He thrust the flowers toward her as if handing her a peace pipe.

"What are these?"

"Carnations. I also brought you some chocolates." He handed her the box as if it were another peace pipe. "Can I come in?"

"What for?"

"I missed your poetry Friday."

"And yesterday, what about our picnic? I was going to recite poetry."

Felix, not ordinarily a fast thinker, was prompted by the fear of a neat rearrangement of his frame by her siblings. He told Olga of his great love for her, of his mother's failing health, his little sister's failing health, he even added a neighbor's failing health.

Olga blinked. Felix wondered if she were contemplating setting his plea to rhyme. Olga blinked again. He then wondered if she were merely set to throw him to her brothers and, while downing his chocolates, watching his physical parceling.

"Come in," she squawked like an irritated Blue Jay, turning and leading him into the house.

He entered the living room, still concerned about a garrote around his neck or a cachetada to the head.

"Sit," she then said as if addressing a trained poodle. He sat. She left.

Meanwhile, her mother entered, looking at him as if staring at a condemned man.

"Hello, Se??ora."

"Hello," she said indifferently as if addressing a condemned man.

She headed for the door, clutching her purse. Olga entered, clutching her journal. Se??ora Rido turned at the door and said to Olga, "By the way, I'm going to a jeweler for an appraisal. I think those earrings are worth something." With that, Se??ora Rido closed the door on Felix's hope for a long life. Olga proceeded with her poetry:

If it twern't for you or the fantastic sky above
or all the lost people in the world without love
I could neither laugh nor mourn the day away
But the world would then be just okay
For life is a variety of

Felix's mind then blew the room in order to chase down Mrs. Rido, pinch her nose, grab her purse, and run.

"You know," he said, "I better go with your mother. Someone might grab her purse."

He reasoned he would do Olga little good as a cripple without a head. Therefore, before she could respond, he dashed. While running, he tore his shirt off and wrapped it over his head, leaving only an opening for one eye as he quickly caught up with Olga's mother. He grabbed her purse. She held. He pulled. She kicked his shin. He said, "Ouch!" She said, "Good!" He pulled harder. She kicked harder, landing a heel on his stomach. He said, "Ouch, ouch!!" She said "Good, good!!" He then put his hand on her face, pushed hard, knocking her off balance which, by the law of physics as then prevailed in the 50's, separated her from her purse.

"Sin verg??enza," she yelled from her sitting position as Felix darted off.

Once home, he emptied Se??ora Rida's purse. Out came a pile of contents. And a pair of earrings. His eyes popped out like a snail's, for the earrings were little diamond earrings. He rolled them around in his palm and saw no green. He then darted to Olga's. Theodore, the middle brother, opened the door. He looked at Felix as that fabled early bird eyes that equally fabled worm in the morning.

"What do you want?" Theodore said, making Felix now believe this was, in fact, the official Rido family greeting.

Felix held up the purse like an Olympic Gold Medal. Theodore snatched it as if it were his Olympic Gold Medal.

"How'd you get this?"

Thinking this was as close to a "Thank You" he was going to get, he said "You're Welcome."

"How come you have the purse?" Theodore said, insisting on sticking to the subject.

"I saw your mother's purse snatched by some sin verg??enza, so I ran after him, knocked him down, gave him a few cachetadas, grabbed the purse and brought it back to your mother."

"You got my mother's purse back?" Theodore said, putting it more succinctly.

"At great risk. The vato was as big as Trigger with Roy in the saddle."

Theodore closed the door. Felix thought that perhaps the closing of the door firmly in his face was Theodore's way of saying "Thanks!" and "Goodbye!" The door then soon reopened. Olga stood sporting a beaming smile, having overheard his account. She had questioned Felix's ability to stand up to bullies. Although it wasn't one of her brothers, it was an acceptable substitute. Standing up to a purse-snatcher, especially one as big as a horse, was tops in Olga's mental Rolodex.

"Ask for anything," she said.

"You know those green earrings Victor gave you?"

"Yes."

"Give them back."

"To whom?"

Again, Felix had to think fast. He wanted to kick himself for getting involved but he was too sore from Se??ora Rido's two well-placed patadas.

"To me."

"What would you do with a pair of green earrings? I know it's the Fifties, but don't be silly. I may put you in my next poem."

"Let me explain before you go to the trouble."

"No trouble."

"Then let me explain anyway."

"Shoot."

"Victor took them from Gladys to give to you."

"He did, did he?"

"She actually threw them at him."

"So he caught them and brought them to me?"

"He didn't catch them. They landed on his head. It hurt. Then he brought them to you."

"That perro."

"Worse. He asked me to get them back from you."

"That mosca."

"Worse. He stole them from his T?¡a Marta to begin with."

"That gusano. I say no."

"'No' what?"

She informed Felix that she would not return the earrings to Victor. She would return them to his T?¡a, the rightful owner. He agreed, promising to the last breath of his life and all breaths in-between that he would deliver them. Olga went back into the house, returning with Lanzo and Theodore who clutched the green earrings in a fist the size of a basketball.

"I can carry them," Felix said to Theodore. "They're not that heavy."

"Neither are you," Lanzo said as he and Theodore took hold of Felix on either side by an armpit and walked briskly away as Felix appeared to be floating rapidly away.

"Hurry and return him," Olga said, "I'm going to write a special poem for him."

Felix's thoughts shot to a cold Hamm's and the Happy Times bar.

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