The Return of Fidencio Hemento
"You never heard about my sobrino?"
A Gordito steered his battered pickup through a morning that had rudely flung a foggy sheet over everything. Cawing blackbirds and a bony dog emerged from and quickly disappeared back into the vapor, occupied with the never-ending mission of extracting nourishment from a miserly cementscape. The Gordito was driving tentatively as if expecting an ambush by Somali pirates disguised as the cawing blackbirds and bony dog. He slowly guided his truck onto the dirt landscaping surrounding The Green Bar.
Published on LatinoLA: September 21, 2011
Inside the bar, beer odor was master. A couple of flightless birds were nesting at the bar. Every customer of the Green Bar had his own reason, known only to heaven and himself, to be perched on a barstool in the murky belly of this classic hole-in-the-wall. The Green Bar sat on a lot in northern Los Angeles not claimed by El Sereno, City Terrace, Lincoln, or Boyle Heights. Like its patrons, it just was.
A Tiznado in one end of the bar yelled to a Flaco at the opposite end of the bar.
"Only way to make it now is to own your own negocio."
Like what?" yelled the Flaco.
"Selling supernatural chili grown in secluded fields of East Los that'll take twenty years off your age. Or eatable grocery bags. Mysterious pink chocolate from a remote Mayan stash that cures everything from skinny legs to jealous boyfriends. Or you could train mice to break dance. You just have to use your imagination."
"People are too smart nowadays. They all read Harry Potter books."
"Not on E-bay. They bid on left-hand hammers there."
"Reminds me of my nephew Fidencio Hemento," said the Gordito as he slid onto a barstool situated halfway between the Flaco and the Tiznado. The Gordito, known by his mother as Sammy Hemento, was the former owner of the El Coraz??n Abierto on Eastern Avenue before it was bulldozed into a neat pile of splinters to make way for the Long Beach Freeway. That had been decades past.
"What about him?" said the Tiznado.
"You never heard about my sobrino?" said the Gordito, waving for a beer.
"I remember him struggling to stay on a stool one night. He was celebrating something, I forget what."
"Probably the day he got back on his feet," said the Gordito.
"Never knew he was off them."
"They were sticking straight up, like a squirrel nailed by a twenty-two," continued Sammy a.k.a. the Gordito. "Poor nuez. He had worked his codos off." The Gordito then proceeded to inform them about Fidencio's rise from raspada vendor on the streets of East L.A. to owning a small, ill-stocked grocery store near the corner of Arizona and Cesar Chavez Avenues. Then within two years, expanding to open Roberto's Marketa Ranchera on Third. From there, Fidencio opened a Roberto's Marketa Ranchera #2 on Eastern Avenue. Then a Roberto's Marketa Ranchera #3 on Atlantic. He then went on to a clothing store on First Street, a panader?¡a on Ford Boulevard and a beauty salon on Whittier Boulevard.
"Sounds like he had it all together," said Hank admiringly, himself the youthful owner, manager, bartender, bouncer, and sweeper of The Green Bar. "How could anything go wrong?"
"I'll tell you. He met Lucy Gabilondo. He fell in love with all his heart and she fell in love with all his money."
"She must have been a babe," said the Tiznado taking a swig from his beer.
"No," said the Gordito, "she had a face like an ostrich with a severe case of heartburn. She was pale and stiff like a park statue. And tall beyond her sex or any other sex you can name."
"Something must have attracted him," said Hank. "Did she sing?"
"Hope not. Her voice sounded like a screech from a cat that has just had its tailed stepped on."
"Then did she dance? Do magic? Speak in tongues?"
"Then she had money, too," concluded the Flaco.
"Just enough to keep herself upright. That's why she snatched Fidencio like a grizzly snatches a salmon headed upriver."
"How'd he meet her?"
"She worked in Fidencio's beauty salon. One day he walked into the salon the same time Lucy did. He had never met her. He thought she was a client looking to rearrange her hairdo, which looked like a drowned muskrat sitting on her head. He insisted she sit down so he could summons his best hairdresser, said hairdresser being Lucy Gabilondo. He had heard that Lucy could perform miracles with any and all pelo that sprouted up in East Los. And he felt this woman needed a colossal miracle."
He then sat next to her (continued the Gordito after waving for another beer).
Passing a??os has given the Latina a vocabulary and an ability to sling it which her abuelita never had. She slung it at Fidencio and collared him. You could have knocked Jacqueline Iraola, manager of the salon, over with a canary feather. She was witness to Fidencio Hemento being captivated by homely Lucy Gabilondo."
That evening, Fidencio Hemento and Lucy Gabilondo popped into his Jaguar and zipped to a restaurant nuzzled alongside a moonlit ocean faithfully delivering successive rumbling waves over white sands, a mise en scene that invited enchantment released in soft, sultry whispers. Here, even Lucy's screechy voice took on a steamy sabor. He wined and dined her while she continued to cast her stunning spell over him.
Next day, Lucy was unemployed. She was now stationed on a pedestal resting squarely on Fidencio Hemento's neck. You could have knocked over the remaining women who worked at the salon with the same canary feather used to knock Jacqueline over. All but Lyle Montero, the sixteen-year-old boy who swept the floor, were dead certain they were prettier than Lucy. And Lyle could have been in the running had he shown any interest. They all nodded vigorously when one of them said that Lucy had a face only a madre ciega could love.
Fidencio lavished Lucy with regalos and slipped her into a condo in Monterey Hills. He wanted to wed and carry her off to his Westwood home, but she wanted to stay single and close to family who dwelled in the four corners of East L.A.
Every time he mentioned marriage, Lucy flashed an inciting sonrisa then made a remark about a Cartier 3-Gold necklace she saw somewhere, reminding him there were no rules for jewels ifn' a girl wanted them. Especially one that cost only one thousand three hundred fifty dollars.
"Why won't you marry me?" he then said.
"And ruin everything?"
"Okay. Doesn't matter. I plan to keep you no matter how."
"I've been looking to be kept, Fidie," she said, using her pet name for Fidencio, "but not in a jaula."
"You'll always be free to come and go...within reason."
"Whose reason? Yours while I go everywhere with you wrapped around my neck like a tubby choker?"
"Nonsense y poppycock," he said. "If you don't want me around and you want to wander off alone in some womanish enterprise, just say so and I'll follow you in my car at a reasonable distance."
"I won't have you hovering around me like a dozen moscas partying at a barbecue."
Lucy then took a swat at a mosca with a folded Belvedere Citizen, making Fidencio jump like a popped mosca.
"You're right. I am always around you, smothering you, watching your every movida. Let's make it official. Let's find a preacher. Make that two in case the first one slips into a coma during the ceremony."
The Tiznado raised his hand and Sammy acknowledged it with a solemn nod.
"But you said she was a fea?"
"Miss Orivle of greater East L.A.," said the Gordito.
"Then if he is a heads-up vato businessman, how could he be chasing her like she was Salma Hayek when she really looked like Barney Fife."
"Her gusto. Her charm. Her being. The stuff inside. It was her inner beauty he was after. When Mother Nature made her, in all the excitement she stuffed all the beauty inside. Like a turkey. There was none left for the outside. But inside, she had the fundamental nature men go after like dogs go after gatos."
"You must be leaving something out," said Hank, "like maybe she had a tough body. I mean, if a woman had a spectacular cuerpo and a head like a turnip, some guys would still storm the castle."
"She was as skinny as a churro. She wore expensive clothes, perfume, and jewelry just to keep herself from blowing away. That was costing Fidencio."
"She must have had something more," said the Flaco, waving for another beer.
The Flaco was not buying the concept of inner beauty. Outer beauty was what mattered, he said to himself. That's what other vatos saw and wanted. And it felt good when you had your arm wrapped around it and they didn't. He knew no homies who cruised the boulevard looking for "inner beauty." They wouldn't know inner beauty if you brought it to them on a skateboard.
"And the woman liked to travel," said the Gordito. "One summer, he took her all over Europe. In a newspaper in Spanish, they claimed to be the first gente from East L.A. ever to walk through the Louvre in Paris. But then this guy called Rudy Pulado wrote a letter to another newspaper claiming his abuelo Antonio Pulado marched in a victory parade in Paris while serving in the Marines during WW I. He said it was on July 14, 1919, and that his abuelo visited the Louvre. Then this woman wrote the same paper claiming that she had an aunt who, one day in 1909, bought a boat ticket to Paris and never came back. She said that would make her T?¡a Odelita Noka, that was the rucka's name, the first East L.A. citizen to swim in the Louvre River. Fidencio then said it was baloney con chorizo since the Louvre is an art museum not a r?¡o. Plus he had his ticket stubs. Then the newspaper published photographs of the claimants' relatives standing in front of the Louvre, separate photos of course. And two more of T?¡a Odelita by the Eiffel Tower, Abuelo Antonio on the Champs-Elys?®es."
After inspecting the photos (continued the Gordito), Fidencio felt a demoniac jackass had kicked him in the est??mago.
"I know where we can go next?" said Lucy, ignoring Fidencio's quejas. "Madame Tussauds."
"The wax place. Where they keep wax celebrities."
"Latinos have already been there."
"I was thinking about a viaje to the Gobi Desert in China. I saw a Discovery program about that place, the only desert with bears. Vast, empty, and far away. I'll bet T?¡a Odelita Noka never set her calcos there."
"Who's T?¡a what-you-just-said?"
"Some chick who thinks she went every where before us. We'll make her look like a barrio fisg??na that never goes anywhere."
"What are you talking about?"
"And that Rudy Pulado thinks he can outflank me with a military movida."
Not comprehending Fidencio, Lucy opened her laptop to search for Madame Tussauds. Fidencio went to the Central Library to get more information about the Gobi Desert. He left the library loaded with books, bought winter clothing and the Cartier 3-Gold necklace Lucy had salivated over. Armed and ready, Fidie called Lucy as soon as he bounced into his house but there was no answer. He bounced back in his car and sped to her place. He rang her doorbell. She didn't answer. That caused Fidie to do a convulsed conga on her porch. Exhausted after his jig, he went back to his car and fell asleep.
"What are you doing here?"
Fidencio heard a muffled yet distinctively cat's shriek followed by rapid knocks to his driver side window, which caused the top of his head to make a valiant attempt to pierce the car's roof.
"Man, how come you didn't just use a hammer," he said rolling down his window.
"I would have used a jack hammer if there had been one lying around. You have to give me space, ace."
"What do you mean?"
"I told you, we can't discuss marriage if you're coiled around me like that snake, what's its name?"
"Yeah. Like half a dozen of those."
"I brought you something," he said, handing Lucy the gift-wrapped necklace. She snapped it up like a famished mouse spotting a scrap of cheese then scampered up to her condo.
When Fidencio arrived home, he stretched out on his couch but again jumped toward a rooftop when his telephone rang.
"Hello Fidie," the voice of an aroused cat said. "I loved it."
"I bought it just for you."
"I noticed. I'll wear it to the wax museum." She hung up.
They went to Madame Tussauds. He did not convince her to go to the Gobi Desert. She did agree to go to a Chinese restaurant in China Town. He was sure that T?¡a Odelita Noka or Abuelo Antonio Pulado had never been there since it had just opened. Next day, Lucy squeezed an eight hundred dollar Fendi handbag out of Fidencio.
"Business was rolling, huh?" said the Flaco.
"Down hill. All his businesses were sinking faster than a brick in his hot tub," said the Gordito. "The first business that went under was the beauty salon on Whittier Boulevard, the very business that inserted Lucy into his life. Then the panader?¡a on Ford Boulevard, then--"
"The clothing store on First?" said the Tiznado.
"No, it was--"
"Roberto's Marketa Ranchera #2 on Eastern Avenue," said Hank. "That's a tough spot. Traffic goes flying by."
"No, actually it was Roberto's Marketa Ranchera #3 on Atlantic Boulevard," said the Gordito.
"What?" the Flaco, the Tiznado, and Hank all cried out in unison like a chorus in a Greek Tragedy.
"I would have guessed the same but with Lucy Gabilondo sucking money out of his bank account like a baby sucking on its big toe, and a chuckling manager embezzling funds from Roberto's Marketa Ranchera #3, he had a false 3-D image of his profits."
"So, he was down to the two Roberto's," said the Flaco.
"And the clothing store on First," said Hank.
"That probably went next," said the Flaco.
"Actually that was the last business that went," said the Gordito. "He lost all three Roberto's Marketas Rancheras. Still, he kept Lucy chic while he was being cleaned out," said the Gordito. "Then Lucy found opportunity to move on. On one of her shopping binges, she caught the eye of a wealthy shopper of eighty winters who, in turn, felt she would lend a nice Latina accent to his San Marino mansion. His wife had died decades before and he had forgotten she had existed. So, he wooed Lucy like a first love in a florid spring."
Meanwhile, while Lucy was finding new love and diggings, Fidencio was busy losing her, the house in Westwood and his Jaguar.
One frosty morning, Lucy was driving through East Los, touching base with her roots. She spotted Fidencio huddled at a bus stop on Cesar Chavez Avenue.
"How are ju?" she asked, pulling up in her new Cadillac Esplanade.
"Cold. I should be on a slab in the morgue."
"Oh, poor Fibie," simpered Lucy.
"I see you're snug as a maggot in a carcass," said Fidencio, noticing her new coat, a thousand-dollar Burberry, in which she was warmly encased.
"I'll attribute that crack to your miserable condition. How's business?"
"The worst of worlds and the worst of worlds," he said with a shiver.
"Where you headed?"
"Ruin, catastrophe, defeat, rage, depression and collapse. Want to come along?"
"First things first. Where are you going after you get on the bus?"
"My crumbling business on First Street. A clinging hint that I was once on the top of the ladder kicking others off, a gleam in my eyes, a fat wallet in my pocket."
"Wow, you need a ride. Get in."
He slid in. He wanted to cry out, "It ain't fair, man, it ain't fair," but opted for a more reasoned response.
"You know, my luck has been bad. Rhymes with sad. They go together like love and marriage and a horse pushing a carriage."
"You're talking out of your nariz. Are you okay?" Pointing to her head, she added, "I mean aqu?¡, en la cabeza?"
Fidencio's response was to form a ball in self-defense against the cold and Lucy.
She turned up the heater.
"You're not the first businessman to go belly up, have their bottoms torched. I had a t?¡o, Ram??n Tamar??n, who lost so much money that--"
"I still have my clothing store," he whimpered.
"A mere chicharr??n of what you used to have."
Lucy pulled up to the store.
"I've saved up some money. I could help you crawl back."
"I don't like crawling unless I spot a ten under something."
"Then let me help you get a car."
"A Metro pass?"
"No y nope."
"I'm reaching for your hand, the hand of a drowning cocono. Give it to me."
"No, I might not get it back."
He jumped out quickly as if to save his hand.
"I'll be seeing you," she said to his back as it along with the rest of my nephew lumbered to his final stand against entrepreneurial extinction.
Lucy pulled away and left Fidencio shivering again as he reached the door to his tienda de ropa. She thought of sad endings to movies where a car, truck, or mula pulls away from an individual, abandoned to a dreadful doom. Then her thoughts quickly turned to an elegant cardigan sweater she saw at Nordstrom's.
"That's it?" said the Tiznado while the Gordito took several large swallows of his beer. "La rucka wipes him out then, smiling and all happy, she skips away?"
"Yeah, didn't he do something to show her how she done him wrong?" said the Flaco.
The Tiznado, the Flaco and Hank waited for a reply from Sammy aka the Gordito who slammed down his beer with a burp and an "Excuse me." He then wiped his mouth with a sleeve and continued.
"Fidencio walked into his store. His manager, Lynn Trompista, arms folded, stood by the cashier, flanked by the two other employees of the store. Seated next to them was a thin, balding man with eyes of a decaying Halibut."
"What is going on en mi tienda?" Fidencio yelled at the store. "Where are the customers? How come the lights aren't on? Who's the skinny?"
His voice bounced spiritedly around the shadowy and evacuated store.
"Which one do you want answered first?" said Imelda Fr?¡os, one of the sales clerks.
As it turned out, one of his mass of creditors had placed a lien on the proceeds from his store. Any monies collected went to the creditor via the impeding hands of the Sheriff's Department in the form of the fish-eyed individual now sitting in Fidencio's store. Lynn Trompista had turned off the lights and had customers turned away so that no money would be collected until Fidencio arrived with a double take and counter-move.
"I guess he turned it around, eh?" said Hank collecting empty beer bottles from the bar like a toddler collecting daisies.
"No, he lost the store, too."
"Another sad ending," said the Flaco, feebly waving for another.
"Did Lucy come running back, stuffing his orejas with bills?"
"Ni modo. The rich Octogenarian died and left all to his Nonagenarian sister in England. Lucy had to vacate the mansion. And she ran out of money and lost the Esplanade. No more jewelry, ornaments and sweet smelling perfumes."
The Flaco scratched his head then said, "What's this OctoÔÇªOctograin and Nanograin--"
"The Octogenarian," said the Gordito. "That's what they call people in their eighties. Nonagenarian is someone in their nineties."
"Why isn't it a sad ending?" said the Flaco, now critiquing the Gordito's storytelling. "Fidencio lost everything."
"He won the loteria?" said Hank. "Now I remember! That's why he was buying beer for everyone the night he nearly fell off his bar stool."
"No, what did it were those tickets my nephew had from the Louvre. He put them on E-Bay. He got one thousand five hundred and fifty dollars."
"What?" said Hank.
"That's what I said," said the Gordito. "Only I said it three times. People collect everything nowadays. Rusty nails, ugly wigs, clocks without hands, chairs without legs, tables without tops, and torn ticket stubs. With the money, he bought a hot dog cart. His specialty--hot dogs wrapped in bacon."
"He started over?" said the Flaco incredulously.
"From square one."
"And now he has more stores than ever, right?" said Hank.
"Then maybe just one store?" said the Tiznado.
"No. He still has the one cart. He is thinking of expanding to three carts then a lunch wagon."
"Those are his plans?" said the Flaco deflated.
The Gordito nodded sleepily.
"Any woman in his life?" said Hank.
"Well, I hear a woman lingers at his hot dog stand. Striking beauty with grey, lustrous eyes, long, black, silky hair, and a face like dawn's first light in May. And a tight figure. He decided this time if he goes through any emotional torment, her looks will balance the books."
They lifted their beers simultaneously in an inadvertent synchronized tribute to the return of the Gordito's sobrino, Fidencio Hemento.
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