Earth Angel

“Let’s see how fast she’ll go.”

No pudó creerlo . Eddie managed to fix up his old man’s Chevy, and now the wind was blowing through the open windows on him, Julio and Charlie as they headed away from their world of the barrio on Pacific Coast Highway. Smiling, Eddie turned up the radio as Richie Valens sang “Let’s Go,” issuing not only Eddie, but also the Chevy, Julio and Charlie an order to charge head first into the ocean air rolling in from the coast charged with electricity. Through the open windows, the wind whipped their thick heads of hair, turning sculpted pompadours into wild swirls of tres flores layered thick against scalps.

“Shut up, Charlie, you didn’t even help work on it. Too busy slapping the quarterback’s nalgus every time he passed you the ball.”

“Don’t listen to him Eddie—I’ll get you some ladies when I make varsity next year. But right now, lay a patch of rubber ese.”

Pulling a bit to the right, the mighty Chevy growled as Eddie pumped the accelerator, easing from the black pavement onto the sand dusted parking lot. The sun hung low in the afternoon sky as each door closed with a solid metallic ‘clunk.’ They whooped and hollered, throwing open their arms to the briny smell of the salty air. Blowing in from the water, it ran along the warm beach that sloped up to the lot overlooking the beach.

“This is God’s country,” Eddie said, breathing in deep. “The same thing the padres saw when came up through Mexico and started all those missions.”

“Nah ese.”  Charlie stuck out his tongue. “It’s just Venice, or is it Santa Mónica?”

“Julio, tell this burro that the Spanish missionaries named everything after the saints.”

“Charlie, don’t you listen to your abuelita when she tells you the Mexicans are God’s people– the first to live in the tierra santa­—the holy land.” Julio winked.

“Your chones are wholly guey.” Charlie said, squinting his crescent eyes.

“Earth Angel” played out of the lowered windows. From the radio, John Perkins’ vocals pulled on the sorrow of teenage hearts. The Doo Wop voices behind Perkins were the reassuring words justifying his pain. Each strum of the guitar strings was meant to speak to the sadness deep in the stomachs of lovesick teens hanging on the signal emitted from the crystal diodes of the AM dial. The three boys fell quiet, lost in their own thoughts.

Will you be mine,” Charlie broke the silence, swinging his stocky midsection like the Big Bopper doing the twist. “My darling dear, love you all the time.”

“Shut up, Charlie,” Eddie said. “That’s a stupid song.”

The round friend waved his hands in the air. “Come on Eddie, it’s a good song. If it’s not good, why was it was like numero uno, the big Kahuna of 45s forever.”

Eddie looked out over the water and stretch of sand reaching all the way up to where the Chevy más chingon was parked. The afternoon water all but empty, except for a group of surfers, sprawled out on the shore, long boards stuffed into the sand, standing tall like giant, wooden tombstones.  A few of the bronzed guys ran up and down the sand, throwing a football, shoving one another into the foamy edges of the water rushing to shore.

Que piensas Julio? You like that pinche gabacho song?”

Pues, I guess so, Eddie,” he said, lighting a cigarette from a pack he unrolled from his shirt sleeve. “It’s okay.”

A skinny kid with indio hair, Julio shrugged his shoulders and held the lighter to the end of the unfiltered Lucky Strike.

“See ese, it’s not a bad song.” Charlie nudged Eddie, knocking him out of his transfixed stare into the horizon.

He turned and looked to his short friend. Charlie came with a light punch that caught Eddie off guard. Doubling forward, he coughed, stunned.

Dios mio,” Charlie said. “I’m sorry. I was just clowning.”

“Chucky, you can’t mess around with Eddie like that.” Julio flicked his lit cigarette onto the ground. “He’s a brainiac, not a muscle head like you panson.”

Eddie stood up straight, his eyes watering a bit. He looked out towards the water, letting the breeze blow into his face. “Julio, let me get one of those cancer sticks, ese.”

Leaning off the hood of the Chevy, walking around the front, careful not to kick up any sand into the cuffs of his zooter pants, Julio handed Eddie the pack and metal flip-top lighter. “Salud,” Julio said, winking as the word came out hushed.

“You know why I don’t like “Earth Angel” ese?” Eddie said. “It’s because the Penguins were the ones to write and record it, but the honky Crew Cuts stole it and made it popular because they were white.”

A smile broke out across his round friend’s face. He wrapped Julio in the stomach with the knuckles of his open left hand.

Mira Julio, we got Wolfman Jack here, telling us about the hits.” Charlie laughed, “Hey, send this next one out for my ruca Sally in El Monte. She’s missing her Carlito right now ‘cause he’s in Santa Mónica with too much chorizo.”

“Shut up baboso, I’m trying to tell you something.” Eddie took a quick drag from the short Lucky Strike.

“No mames.” A goofy grin came across Charlie’s face as he waggled his tongue and rolled his eyes. With his head hanging forward, he made groaning noises as an object blocked the setting sun for a momentary eclipse. Spinning through the air with a whirl, a football plucked Charlie in the back of the head, knocking him off balance.

“Ah, what the heck man.” Charlie staggered, holding his hand to the back of his head.

Several of the surfers who had been running around the beach stood at the edge of the sand, a throwing distance from the Chevy. Their shoulders were tanned, taught muscle. Their cheeks ground out of hard angles. Unlike the sunny glow of Beach Boy album covers, their faces snarled with twisted lips and hard eyes.

“Can we get our ball?” A command came from the group. The words stretched out in a singsong tone as though they’d already been made to wait.

“Your pinche ball hit me in the head,” Charlie said, rubbing the back of his head, not facing the group.

Eddie noticed Charlie’s voice crack a little, and wondered if the growing group of guys heard the break in his voice. Tears began to form in Charlie’s eyes.

“What’d you say amigo?” He pronounced it ‘Ah-MEE-GO,’ his voice cold and authoritative.

“Hey, we don’t want your ball,” Eddie said. “But I think you owe my friend an apology.”

From behind, the sun began to burn bright red, casting the faces of the surfers in shadow. One of the taller, broader silhouettes with a flat top stepped forward, his hands clenching into fists. Inching closer and closer, he walked up the beach to where the blacktop met the sand, standing inches away from Eddie. His breath was a mixture of seawater and booze, with the stench of must coming from his bare chest covered with flecks of sand.

“Apology? We don’t owe nothing to no spics. This is our beach.  Ain’t no Mexican greasers gonna come here and tell us what to do.” He poked his finger into Eddie’s sternum.

“Hey man, we just came here to hang, the same as you,” Eddie said.

Julio glanced from the faceless group on the beach to Eddie. Charlie stopped rubbing his head.

“Here,” he said, holding the gnarled pigskin, the laces stripped and frayed. “Here’s your ball. I don’t need no apology.”

Looking into the narrowed blue eyes of the surfer, Eddie kept watching, waiting for him to make a move. Turning his attention from Eddie to Charlie, the surfer with closely cropped hair held his right palm up for the ball. Charlie set the ball in the open, pink hand as best he could, trying not to feel the moment of connection with the ball pressed between them. It dropped to the ground. Flattop looked back to Eddie.

“Pick it up.”

Charlie bent over to gather the ball.

“Not you,” Flat Top said. “I want him to pick it up.” He nodded towards Eddie.

The red sun waned, disappearing almost completely behind the horizon as Eddie turned and bent over to pick up the ball. He was reminded of something called a green flash that supposedly happened in the split second when the sun appeared to sink into the sea. A glint of light unlike all the colors of the sunset sparked as day went down to dusk. Eddie thought it was all a part of God’s plan for revealing himself to those who were ready to see him. What came as a bright eruption of light exploded as Eddie reached for the ball and felt the smash of a barefoot across the bridge of his nose. He snapped back from the pain. His hands clasping his face.

Laughter came from the group as it approached. Through blurry eyes, Eddie grabbed Charlie and pushed him towards the car. He shoved Flat Top, who fell off balance as he continued to laugh.

“Julio, get in the car.”

Jumping behind the wheel, Eddie put the Chevy into reverse as a hail of sticks, bottles and rocks pelted the windshield, hood and fenders. When the car had gone far enough back, Eddie ground the gears getting it into drive and accelerated as best he could through the winding parking lot. A thump, followed by a crack came from the back window. In the rearview, Eddie saw a football bouncing behind them through the fractured rear glass.

“My car.” Eddie hissed.

“Just drive,” Julio said.

Both Julio and Eddie could hear Charlie breathing through clenched teeth, stifling spasms of breath from behind them. Eddie turned on the radio. “I Get Around” played for a moment, before Eddie turned the radio off. They continued down PCH with hum of the open windows filling the silence.

“I hate the puto DJs who played ‘Earth Angel,” Eddie said. “It was the B-side of the Penguins’  “Hey Señorita”, but ain’t no way they were going to play black guys singing a song in Spanish.”

“Ain’t nobody getting respect for sounding or looking Mexican ese,” Julio said. He unrolled his shirtsleeve and tapped the top of the soft pack of Lucky Strikes. A cigarette popped up and he put it between his lips.

Glancing at Charlie in the rearview, Julio could tell Charlie’s eyes were no longer teary, but puffy and red. It wasn’t right. They took songs. They planted their huarache sandals and polka dot bikinis in the beaches named for the sacred saints.

Charlie knew he couldn’t get the beach boys back. Not in this lifetime. His slid back in the seat and amused himself with the tenfold flashes of light exploding in not only the faces of the beach boys, but in the faces of their children and their children’s children who would come to see God in their actions. More and more were crossing over. There would be no other choice than for the beach boys to swim, and maybe even drown, in a brown sea.

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