Love Thy Neighbor--?íPero No Te Dejes!
"Don't sit there making speeches. This isn't Cinco de Mayo."
It was an East L.A. morning with all the trimmings, such as kind of blue skies, intruding Hip-Hop, a viento suave, hustling smog-gray birds, distant sound of a power mower, buzzing moscas, and whatever. The inharmonious ruido was a sweet symphony that reverberated back and forth across Dangler Avenue and into Carlota Stima's ears. Heaven seemed to be kissing all the earth around her as she stood on her porch. She sported a new, generously styled--for she was of generous size--zebra tunic and uplifted spirits. Her feet were smiling in a pair of flat wedge sandals with snake and zipper detail. At her apex, a fresh shoulder-length spiral perm highlighted with golden streaks swimming through her black hair for which Cleopatra would have given Mark Antony's right arm. Her only privation was a heavily salted margarita with which to caress and numb her lips.
Published on LatinoLA: April 19, 2011
The heaviness of heart was a faded memory. The loss of love, the treachery of friends or thoughts of death no longer haunted her mind. Now fond hopes danced to Salsa there. She remembered her past and only one word flashed on her forebrain in neon--Pathetic.
She was a chingona of the old school. Half-dozen employers would raise their right hand to that, as well as three ex-husbands, two boyfriends, as well as a yapping Chihuahua from down the street that got it in the ribs with one feminine yet dynamic kick from Carlota. He never challenged her presence in the hood again.
Carlota could look the world in the eye again. With a renewed determination and glow, Carlota Stima stepped off her front porch. She was headed for her anger management class at a community center on Mednik. After a few animated steps, a veil of water came down from the cloudless sky to drench Carlota. She stopped and froze like Lot's wife who turned to gaze upon Sodom and Gomorrah, which immediately got her transformed into a pillar of salt, non-iodized. The water stopped. Carlota turned to the house next door to see Cynthia Boscarida who made Amy Winehouse look overstuffed. To the rest of the world she was Cynthia Boscarida; to Carlota, she was basically The Stinker. The Stinker held a hose in her hand as she gave her backside to Carlota. She calmly turned to say something to her seven-year-old daughter Bertha who sat peacefully on the porch steps, nibbling on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Carlota's eyes narrowed. Cynthia's calmness in the wake of her act was challenging Carlota's current notion that all-was-cool-with-the-world. Her blood was evaporating in her veins she was sure. She snorted and was disappointed when flames failed to shoot forth from her nostrils. She set sights on the four foot, flat top wooden fence that separated, somewhat, the two members of the softer sex.
She told herself she was angry and had a right to be. Then her anger management training kicked in. Sure, she had a right to gnash her teeth, bite her lengua and kick the nearest cat. However, she told herself to take that anger and set it aside in a tiny basket por un momentito. She counted to ten forwards then backwards, followed by loving memories of her mother, father and abuelitos. Next, she thought of her first love, her best love, and then added several more for the heck of it. Then she tried humming her favorite songs but they were all about sweet smiles and yielding lips, which reminded her of Octavio, her first husband. He was a two-timing v?¡bora who doused himself with discounted cologne. Her humming turned into the low growl of a wounded creature of the night. Her anger jumped out of that tiny basket and clobbered her like a brick to the back of the head.
Anger management was taking second fiddle to swift and sweet revenge.
She ran toward the fence, hopped, and landed parallel to and on top of the fence, balancing herself with arms and legs gripping wood as if she were astride Slammin Sam on the homestretch at Del Mar. She then searched out Cynthia who was casually strolling toward the water faucet, unaware that Carlota was decorating the top of the fence, planning a fierce counterattack. She lurched herself away from the fence, landing with a Richter Scale thud while yelping like a dog whose tail has been stepped on. Cynthia turned and, upon seeing Carlota who was displaying a dripping and disturbing smile resembling a fiend from the everlasting fire, ran toward her front door. Cynthia was as wafer thin as Carlota was phonebook thick. Therefore, it would have been no contest for Cynthia to reach her door and slam it in Carlota's face. Nonetheless, odd things do occur. This was one of those odd things. As Cynthia reached the door, after Bertha had bailed, she slipped, landing on her tummy, her body forming a forty-five degree incline. Cynthia stared at her front door like a dying soul in the desert agonizing over a rapidly vaporizing mirage of a rippling spring.
"Aha!" Carlota wheezed with delight as she reached Cynthia. "I can catch my breath before I pull you inside out then boogie on your rotten tripas."
Cynthia turned up to see Carlota hovering over her, soggy as a bar sponge. Carlota maintained the diabolical sneer, looking like a chubby Latina version of Count Dracula. A universal shriek came out of Cynthia, louder than crashing waves, echoing around Maravilla, and then bouncing off the troposphere.
Bertha, now standing behind Carlota and contriving to help her mother, took aim. Just as Carlota was set to proceed with her surgical treatment, Bertha skillfully flung the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, hitting Carlota on the small of the back and, therefore, on her new zebra tunic.
"Leave my am?í alone," Bertha cried, making certain the purpose of her chuck was clear.
Like an interrupted movie monster, Carlota turned slowly toward Bertha. Cynthia saw a window of opportunity creak open. She pushed off the porch and darted into the house, slamming and locking the door in Carlota's quickly pursuing face.
Her hair resembling a drowned muskrat, Carlota delicately made her way home. When she arrived, her teenage daughter Kathleen jumped higher than she had in all her previous fifteen summers.
"Mom, you're wet and look real mad."
"Put that on your first job app--detail oriented."
"What happened to your anger management?"
"I intend to manage it right over The Stinker's skull."
"But you were doing so good. You hadn't said 'The Stinker' for three days."
"Well, everyone will be saying it from now on. She will be a rotting corpse that will be stinking up the neighborhood for good."
Carlota headed for her bedroom, half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich clinging to her back. She wondered how Gandhi would handle this. She was sure he would have tossed at least one of his sandals at Cynthia. She would bet a twenty that Confucius would have abandoned any and all wise sayings and just clobbered her while spitting out a few choice ancient expletives.
"Think of the color blue," Kathleen said, "that always calms you down."
Carlota did then sneered with spittle since Cynthia was wearing those tight little blue jeans that fit her like the skin on a chorizo.
As she hurriedly dressed, Carlota went into her breathing exercise. She took deep, slow breaths, closing her eyes to envision a tranquil scene--a calm stream flowing by a woodland cottage. She then saw Cynthia standing in front of the hut holding a hose, wearing that nasty grin. Beside her stood Bertha waving another peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
"I'll pull her legs off and hit her over the head with them, then shove them down her scrawny throat," Carlota said as she angrily slipped on an old dress.
After the day's anger management class, Carlota returned home, composed once more. Kathleen was cautiously impressed. After dinner, the house settled into its evening phase. Kathleen was in her room being a teenager in one of the wide variety of ways teenagers have to choose from nowadays. Carlota peacefully sat on the sofa, jotting in a notebook. She was noting all the reasons to dismiss Cynthia's actions. The first was that maybe she didn't know she had drenched Carlota. "Yeah, right!" she added as a side comment.
Next, she noted that maybe Cynthia was off her walnut. She could dismiss her behavior as that of an old-fashioned lunatic. With a twisted smile, she added the comment, "Revenge will be sweet!"
Her third entry read, "That ex-shoplifter, delinquent and home wrecker knew what she was doing" which she underlined three times, although she had no evidence Cynthia had ever shoplifted anything, been out at odd hours, or bulldozed any peaceful home save Carlota's.
With a modest but heinous laugh, Carlota planned. After the next class, she would recruit from among the class of fellow teeth grinders. People who had tossed heavy flower vases, chairs, and people. She would invite the most talented tossers to coffee and donuts. There she would convince the shortest tempers to help her wage a jihad of anger on The Stinker. She wanted souls who would not mutter, "Forget it," or "Move on." She wanted corajudos who would yell, "Now kick her in the teeth, and be quick about it" and other encouragements.
"Aren't we going against everything we learned in class?" Toby Orasillo, an unemployed truck driver, said at the coffee shop as he crunched into his third cinnamon roll. Hefty Toby had chased a little league coach around Belvedere Park until dusk when he lost him somewhere around the skatepark. The coach had taken Toby's eleven-year-old son Fat Alfonso out of the game for eating during a game--while batting.
"Yes," Eva Mintarosa, an aspiring poet, said, "aren't we supposed to, like, avoid conflict?" Eva had tossed a bowling ball at an Ex who said her poetry read like directions on an aspirin bottle. The heavy ball landed on both of his feet. He was wheel-chaired out of her life.
"Look at it as trying to help this cabroÔÇªthis poor soul. We show her what can happen if you don't be nice like us," Carlota said.
"I don't know," Mike Grego said with a firm stroke of a hand through his thinning hair, "I worked hard to get to this point of just forgetting when something doesn't go your way." Mike, a Certified Chicano and Accountant, had thrown a defective table lamp made in China out of his French window and hit a Russian apartment manager square on the head in a mostly Armenian neighborhood in Glendale. He defined it as a true diversity moment. His friends defined it as a true call for help.
The three anger management attendees Carlota was relying on to zap The Stinker were behaving as if their next goal was to win a group Nobel Peace Prize. She looked around the table like a disappointed mother studying her three children who had just confessed to stealing a viejita's life savings she had stuffed in her colch??n.
"Just listen to my plan to finish her off," Carlota said after a dramatic pause.
"Finish her off?" Toby said nervously. "I'd crawl through broken wine bottles for a friend Carlota but I only finish off meals."
"I don't mean to end her sad stab at life."
"Why don't you just bring her in?" Toby said.
"Bring her in where?"
"To the class."
"Oh, I have an answer for that."
The three waited while Carlota thought, symbolically squeezing her forehead with one hand. Then she smiled and said, "She can't wait. She's in need of immediate help. Just this morning, she was on her porch foaming at the mouth."
"You mean, like a mad dog?" Toby said.
"More like three."
"What makes her so angry?" Eva said.
"The silliest things, pobrecita. If something happens to her like some kids dancing on her fence or somebody calling her names, she grabs something to hit you over the head with like when people get into a religious argument. The tiniest spark can set her in a rage that clears streets, churches and most bars."
"She drinks?" Eva said.
"Like a Blue Whale. We need to help this woman by giving her a hint of rage."
"But I think," Mike said, "that we defeat the purpose of all our learning if we push this woman. The teachings of Gandhi, the hopes of Martin Luther King and the examples of Cesar Chavez would be lost. And we are forgetting St. Thomas Aquinas and other mellow types. The morality of carrying a peaceful demeanor would fall under the cartwheel of anger. Our highest aspirations, principles and--"
"Don't sit there making speeches," Carlota said. "This isn't Cinco de Mayo." She wanted to derail Mike before he talked everyone, including herself, out of her grand scheme.
"Mike has a point," Toby said.
"So do I. And here it is. What do you give someone who is fighting a disease?"
"Without insurance? Little hope," Eva said.
"You give them a little of the disease, that's what."
Carlota glanced around the table and saw faces that could belong to members of the Lost Tribe of Israel, wandering across the Sinai desert.
"What do they give someone fighting polio?" she continued." A little bit of polio. What do they give someone fighting the flu? A vaccine full of squiggly flu bugs."
"How come you want so much to help this person? Is she like a t?¡a or neighbor?" Eva said.
"Yes and a world class idiota."
"It's your t?¡a?" Toby said.
"No. A neighbor. I call her The Stinker."
"Wouldn't that contribute to your anger?" Mike said. "Remember, our book says that words play an enormous part in our anger. The words we use, could abuse, I think it says."
"Forget words. Action is what works. Did Zapata yell 'Sissy, Sissy, Sissies' at the Federales? Did our soldiers yell 'Meanie, Meanie, Meanies' at the Nazis? Are we telling that daffy Omar in Libya, 'Please don't do that, it's not nice?'"
She waited for her words to be absorbed then continued.
"So we give The Stinker a little anger. Just a bit so that she can be cured."
Carlota proceeded to explain the plan. It was simple. Eva would knock on Cynthia's door with cake or cookies to attract and, at the same time, distract The Sinker. Eva's reputation for baking greatly exceeded that of her poetry. On either side of the porch, Mike and Toby would position themselves in order to stretch a transparent piece of nylon rope across the foot of Cynthia's doorway. When Cynthia opened her front door and charged at the goodies, she would trip over the rope and fall into Carlota's ever-loving arms so Carlota could Tsk! Tsk! and wiggle her finger at her and say, "See Stinker, if we weren't here, you would fall flat on your snout."
"But if we weren't there, she wouldn't have to worry about falling on her snout," Toby said.
"You miss my point," Carlota said and ended the meeting.
The day arrived. Eva, Toby, Mike and Carlota were at the community center reviewing the game plan. Eva was to ring the doorbell and offer Cynthia snooker doodles--Eva made the tastiest snooker doodles that no one with half a pulse could refuse. When The Stinker a.k.a. Cynthia came forward to claim the dish of tempting galletas, she would trip over the nylon rope and into Carlota's waiting arms. Eva was instructed to gingerly step to one side to allow for Cynthia's rocketing body.
"I just offer her the plate?" Eva said.
"Sure, your cookies would cause cloistered monks to come charging out of their monastery, elbows flying," Carlota said.
"Too many things that could go wrong," Mike said.
"Like what?" Carlota demanded.
"Like her not answering the door."
"She'll look through her peephole and see sweet-looking Eva holding a dish overflowing with sweet-looking cookies. What's not to answer?"
"What if someone else comes to the door?" Toby said.
"She lives with her seven-year-old daughter. A man living with her would have as much chance of talking as a parrot living with Charlie Sheen."
"So we offer her cookies, pull the dish away as she falls into your arms," Mike said. "Carlota, that would make anybody lose management of any and all anger then lust for chorros of blood."
"Right! It's her anger we're after. We want to stroke then cure it."
Eva scratched her head followed by Toby then Mike until it caught on with Carlota. They appeared to be four unwanted hounds in a pound.
Without further discussion, they went to Carlota's house, the staging area for the operation. As planned, they headed next door being led by Eva carrying a platter piled with snooker doodles. Toby and Mike followed closely. Carlota, glowing and clutching a sart?®n behind her, brought up the rear.
Eva rang the doorbell. She waited a moment then was set to press again when a portentous voice said, "Who is it?"
"My name is Eva."
"What do you want?"
"I brought you some welcoming cookies"
Cynthia flung the door open. "What for? I've been living here three years." Cynthia's cherubic face, otherwise pleasant to behold, was squeezed together, her eyebrows making a spirited attempted to touch her lips.
"Well, I've only been here one. Let's say I'm welcoming myself by giving you cookies."
"Take them," Bertha's head said sticking out from behind her mother.
Cynthia and Bertha sniffed toward the snooker doodles. Carlota, hidden by Eva, crouched at the foot of the steps, set to pounce like a cat stationed outside a mouse hole.
"Are they free?" Cynthia said.
"Open your eyes, erase all doubt and dizziness. Let your brain spin in delight on this delicious and free sight," Eva said, taking every opportunity to lay poetry on the convenient. She skillfully kept the plate of cookies out of her reach so that Cynthia had to take the required steps to further Carlota's goal of having her, Cynthia, come in contact with the transparent rope Toby and Mike held tautly across the foot of the door for Cynthia's maiden flight. Cynthia, at the sight and aroma of the snooker doodles, weakened. Pushed by Bertha, she stepped forward and shot out like a cork from vintage champagne. She sailed through the air with the greatest of ease as Eva stepped to one side.
Mike witnessed Cynthia's launch in slow motion just as if Cynthia were in an old Sam Peckinpah movie. He saw a trim, entrancing figure, not The Stinker. He made a dash for her--also in relative slow motion--catching her before she reached Carlota who was in her personal batter's box tightly gripping the sart?®n, ready to swing for the fences. Timing Cynthia's arrival, Carlota swung through the air, hitting nothing but air like a batter facing a Fernando Valenzuela screwball. Mike now held the object of Carlota's pay back.
Mike and Cynthia were entwined like two amiable octopuses. In the next few weeks, the gentle cooing, nuzzling and neck gyrations ensued. Meanwhile, Toby fell for Eva's snooker doodles. When they were gone, he fell for Eva. All anger left Mike, Toby and Eva. None attended another anger management class.
The Stinker was lost in the annals of East Los Angeles. The only exchanges now between Cynthia and Carlota were, "It's beautiful morning, huh?" or "Good evening!" or "Have a wonderful day!" all from Cynthia to Carlota whose standard response was an indifferent grunt.
At the very next anger management class at the community center on Mednik, the teacher stood before her class.
"Hermanas, sisters," she began, and then took time to evict several stubborn frogs from her thorax before continuing. "Today we will go over the virtues of a calm mind and serene spirit. But we will take that cool and apply it to today's world. We will discuss controlling our everyday anger versus just being a Latina!"
The three Latinas, all that remained of the class, beamed as they looked upon their escort through the perilous journey toward taming their corajes--Carlota Stima.
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