My mind was far away, thinking about how my big brothers were taking me out to Santa Monica for the Bowie show that night, when I heard it.
“Maricon…” goes the whisper. What?! Was that at me?! I looked down quickly and took inventory. I was still in uniform but most kids leave that alone. Wasn’t like you had a choice in it.
I am the baby brother and the first to be sent to Catholic school. My mother says I’m lucky. They couldn’t afford it when my brothers were in school. So I luck out. My brothers got to go to public school. They tell me I’m missing out on a lot– but Papa says he doesn’t want me turning out like they did, so Catholic school for me. But Domingo is at UCLA so how bad did he turn out? He’s a junior and when he’s done it’s right back into law school there.
But where was I supposed to change clothes? A Superman phone booth? Maybe they were saying it to someone else.
“Maricon…hey we’re talking to you.” That was definitely one of the ten words white boys knew in Spanish. Along with ‘fuck your mother.’ I’d heard this from white boys, but they’ll call anyone a fag. I’d be walking with my brothers, the three of us, and the white boys would let loose with maricon or pendajo. We ignore it. We never stop to see who they are talking about and white kids never learn enough Spanish to learn plurals or anything more colorful, as my Mama would say. So we just figure they are just talking the only shit they know.
Not everything translates or sounds as beautiful as our mothers intended.
Girls named Beatriz and Mercedes hate their names in English–especially when white teachers with Midwestern accents from California towns like Hemet and Bakersfield call their names. When I was in junior high school we changed principals and the new one didn’t have a clue about Mexicans. Now, it’s a Catholic school in southeast LA. At priest school they don’t have guidebooks for this sort of thing? All our priests are directly from Ireland. The priest/principal we had could fuck up saying Gonzalez (goonzaaylees?) never mind more obvious fare like Martinez or Garcia.
So with a name like Renee Fabian, I am freaking doomed. In Spanish it doesn’t sound so bad—I just sounded like a telanovela love slave. And if I could be a love slave with giant pecs and silk smooth skin like on TV no one would be following me home after school trying to kick the shit out of me. Fabian the telenovela star has women––all kinds—the brown ones, the white ones, falling at his feet. But no, Renee is a girl’s name to white boys. And Fabian is (Faybeeyin). And there’s no use explaining that my mom was in Mexico watching American TV and thought Fabian was the ultimate masculine American name and named me it and then Mexicanized it.
They don’t talk about this in the schools yet. In between wanting to deport every person with a Z in their last name, they just haven’t realized that when my mother was in Mexico she was watching American movies dreaming of being here. And her sister was watching Japanese movies and dreaming of being there. That’s how come my cousins are named Toshiro and Akura, which of course, American teachers think must be cars just like all those poor little Mercedes girls.
Maricon, on the other hand, is not my name. There’s only three of them. I have a fighting chance. I turn around and face them, their crisp white t-shirts reflecting a blinding sunlight against the blinding white concrete sidewalk.
“Who are you calling a fag?” I say, fist clenched and ready. I turn around. These aren’t white boys.
“Do you do it with your brother? I heard he’s got quite a technique with that big ass mouth of his.”
They must have been talking about Jesus Jack. I winced but didn’t mean to.
Jesus Jack and I still live at home off of Whittier, in Pico almost to the border of Montebello. Jesus Jack says that’s not the only border we ride.
Jesus Jack’s real name is really Jesus Juan but he says that just reeks of wetback so he changed it. Jack is a couple of weeks shy of his barber’s license. And he swears he’s not cutting any wetback hair once he gets the license. Papa says he’ll cut the hair of anyone walking through the door. Money is money. But Jesus Jack says you gotta have some principles and what celebrity is going to want his hair cut in a wetback shop? I can only imagine what Jesus Jack may have said.
“If that thing was my brother,” says the shaved headed one with the crisp white tee shirt closest to me, “I’d beat the shit out of him daily, esse’.”
That’s all I remember hearing. Maybe they said more, I don’t know. I would like to think I would have just kept walking as usual when the public school kids come out to mock us Catholic school kids, I mean, I’m use to it. But I had to have my brother’s back here. You just can’t let people talk shit about your family. One of them kicked me in the back of the knees so that my legs folded on top of me. Someone kicked my face. Someone dropped my backpack full of books on top of me.
I don’t know how long I was on the sidewalk. It felt like my brains were oozing out of my head. My hair was sticky. I do remember swinging at the Mr. Clean smooth head of the guy in the center as I went down. Then I think I stared up at the storefront party supply place on one side and wedding and quincera dresses on the other. My mind drifted to Jesus Jack as I looked up at the white opaque sequined gowns. The silk formal guyaberas. Jesus Jack was always pissed that boys didn’t get thrown a quincenera too. Though Papa said that was the one good thing about having a family full of boys.
I look up from the sidewalk at the bus stop sign. From the bus stop to home is only five blocks but that’s five homie blocks and I’m not sure where my assailants have gone. There are just as many white kids as Mexicans now, and a melting pot of bad attitude too. My grandfather says it used to be all Jews, Armenians, and Japanese here. No shit? I asked him. I can’t picture it though. Where did they all go? They made money, my grandfather says. They moved to Friendly Hills in La Whittier. He ought to know. He’s a gardener. He does their lawns, but if they used to live in the neighborhood with grandpa, they sure didn’t take him with them.
The bus stop reeks. Freaking Catholics and their fish on Fridays. Vatican II people, it’s over. But H&R fish and chips is packed so it must be 4:30 with every mother in town lined up for a bucket of that nasty fried, that ain’t fresh fish. I try and talk my mom out of it every week. Fish tacos, yes. But not that crap. She just smiles and tells me it’s a tradition. I roll over and try to get up. Fuck it hurts.
“Renee! What the hell happened to you? Sanchez said you were in a fight. He saw you go down from the corner.” It was my Papa. Standing there, bare beer belly hanging over yellow shorts. Black socks in flip-flops. He always does this. The one time I ever brought a friend home from school to hang out, Papa sat in the front room just like that –the yellow shorts and the black socks in the flip flops, no shirt on watching TV. His English was even worse a few years ago and thinking he was saying ‘join me,’ he looked up at my friend in the doorway and said with big open arms “ENJOY ME!” Nowadays, he’s lost that immigrant pride of being in his Sunday best for all occasions out of the house. He no longer wears dress shoes to the beach. And finding his son beat up on the sidewalk is no exception.
“There were three of them, “ I mutter by way of explanation. He mutters something in Spanish that I don’t know.
“Ay, your Mama’s going to have a field cow.”
“Field day, Papa, field day. In English, you can have a cow or a field day but you can’t have both at the same time.” I want to laugh but just wanting to made my side hurt and as he helped me up I could feel myself strain not to walk crooked.
I wasn’t sure I felt like going out anymore. Jesus Jack and I were taking the bus out to stay with Domingo for the weekend. Domingo got us tickets to see Bowie. Jesus Jack is always singing along to Bowie. If he could fake being English over Mexican-American he’d do it, but his face is painfully not British. I’m cool with Bowie, I guess. Whatever. With two older brothers, I just listen to whatever they throw down to me.
The stairs to the front porch seem like they’d grown in height, after five long blocks. I made it to the dusty metal swing with its once aquamarine cushions and tried to sit. I tried to prop my legs on the bright blue chair Mama keeps there, sitting next to the bougainvillea that seemed to always be climbing away from our house. But I couldn’t lift my leg; it hurt too much. I could hear strains of Ziggy Stardust coming from the front bedroom window. Jesus Jack was home.
When Jesus Jack is home, I can tell because Mama has fresh flowers on the kitchen table in the big white glass vase left over from grandma’s funeral. When Jesus Jack is home the TV speaks only in English and if it’s not on, then the radio is and that’s only English too. When Jesus Jack is home the curtains are pulled back and the sun is beating in making us all too hot and tired, but for some reason Jesus Jack has plenty of energy. Always.
He says we are too dreary. We can’t see ourselves in conversation because when he’s not there the curtains are drawn and the lights off. True, this time of year we don’t open anything to let light in until after the sun has gone down. No air conditioning. But Mama doesn’t want the windows open all night––what if someone breaks in? To steal what, Jesus Jack laughs? If he’s home and not going out, the windows are open till midnight at least. It makes Papa nervous and then he can’t sleep.
“What were you fighting about?” Papa asks me again.
“Nothing,” I say catching my breath.
Papa goes inside the house and gets a beer. He offers to get me one for the medicinal properties it will have on my aching side and what appears to be a black eye. He shuffles back and hands me an Olympia. I drink it slow. I still feel weird drinking with the old man in front of the house. Papa looks like he’s enjoying it though. And he doesn’t press on about the fight. Papa pats my knee and gets up to move inside again. I can hear the TV switching on to Spanish.
“Jack?” I call into the house.
“Yes?” He answers in a sing-song voice, peeping his head out of the front door screen. Jesus Jack sits down on Mamas’s aquamarine chair with his legs stretched out onto the railing. The bougainvillea he pretends to drape around his neck. I have been looking down at my leg, but then I look up at him. My mouth hangs open. I can’t breathe.
I don’t know whether I want to puke or punch him. There stands my brother in a light blue t-shirt with a rainbow across it, tight enough that his nipples are showing through like darts. His pants are belled and shiny silver. I mean they’re still jeans but they’re covered in silver glitter. More glitter than a five-year-old girl would know what to do with–and the shoes. The shoes. I didn’t know they made men’s shoes that high or that sandal like. I couldn’t see too well at the moment but I’d have sworn that when the sun hit Jesus Jack’s face, it sparkled, too.
“Has–Papa —seen you?” I ask half disgusted and half amazed.
“No, I’ve been in my room since I got home. This is what I’m wearing to the show.”
“Are you supposed to ––to–be something? No fucking way I’m sitting next to you on the bus.”
“A Space Oddity! I’m a Space Oddity! Get it?” I stare at Jesus Jack for what seems like a black hole of time. Maybe it was. Or maybe it was just a minute. Jesus Jack was looking me up and down as if coming up with fashion ideas for me too.
“Don’t you come near me with glitter, goddamn it. What the fuck’s wrong with you?” I could hear Papa in the kitchen opening another beer. I could feel the bruising under my eye. Then it dawned on me.
“Wait. Did you wear any of that outside the house? Outside the house you fucking moron?”
“Just the shoes from the Barber Shop to here. Wanted to break them in¬–“
“You’re a, a, a…” I couldn’t bring myself to say it. And suddenly our lives flashed before my eyes. How could I have been so lame and stupid? How could I have not noticed? Hairdresser? Glitter? Glam rock? From down the street I can hear some fresh over the border oompa oompa music. From Jesus Jack’s open window I can hear “…I’m a space invader/I’ll be a rock ‘n’ rollin’ bitch for you…”
Jesus Jack and I both turned to see our Papa drop his Olympia straight onto the linoleum inside the front door. I think shit, Papa’s going to kill Jack and I don’t know which side to jump in on. Whose back do I get now?
“Marisela! Marisela!” My Papa calls to my mother. He’s not able to move at first but then charges through the house like a rocket ship—backward and coming in too fast for a landing too.
“Shit,” says Jack, almost remorseful. “I didn’t think he’d waddle out from the front of the TV for at least another hour. “
Mama and Papa are arguing now the way they always do. Only now? I understand part of it. I don’t get all the Spanish but it doesn’t matter what language they speak, it was all kind of foreign until now.
“If we’d have stayed in Mexico,” my father screams, “this kind of thing,” he points to Jesus Jack’s room that was Domingo’s old room too, “would never have happened!”
Then there’s a round of:
“This is from your side of the family!”
“No, your side!”
“You have that cousin that never got married what do you think he was doing?” My dad screams to my mom.
“You’ve got that prima that looks like a guy!” my mom yells back.
It goes on and on in circles. For the first time, ever? I feel sorry for my parents. All they wanted to do was raise their kids in America. They really had no idea what they were going to be up against.
I’m feeling funny in my stomach now. Like if I’m on the bus with him…? What if we get jumped again? Jesus Jack says there’s lots of guys like him where we are going. Great. Are there any guys like me? Guys that just want to hang with their brothers and look at girls? My body is still sore.
I need to see Domingo. Mingo will set me right about things. I think Domingo will have to take a side and that will be my side but I’m not even sure what that side is.
Jesus Jack bought a shirt for me to wear to the show. It has ruffles on it but Jesus Jack is saying it’s like a pirate would wear, not a girl, and not a fag–and pirates are masculine. They steal, have no teeth, and fuck women. My ass, I tell him and punch him hard in the arm, so that he staggers, twisting his platform shoes a bit and busting the strap. It makes me smile. Now, he’ll have to wear flats.
“Does Domingo know about you being—-your clothes?” I ask gulping down the last of my beer with my words.
“Ha! That Sister? You little brother, have not seen our pretty boy Mingo lately have you?”
This is how. This is how I find out that not one, but both of my brothers are fucking gay. And this is how Jesus Jack chooses to tell me. Getting my ass kicked when it should have been his ass. I look down at my dirty uniform pants, sparkling with his glitter in the twilight.
I get up to shower and find clean jeans for the evening. I think of not going while the water, piss and blood hit the drain of the bathtub in Mama’s pink bathroom. But I can’t let him get on that bus alone. You have to change buses downtown. There’s no direct way to get from the east side to the west. Like they did that on purpose so we’d stay where we’re from.
I miss Domingo and I think I need to hear this from Mingo. Maybe Mingo still likes girls and Jesus Jack is just playing a fucked up trick on me to trip me out before the show.
But we’re going to head out with three tickets to see David Bowie, and all along the bus ride there I know deep in my heart that I’ve known this all along. How could I not? The bruises are purpling from the beating. I know they will be dark and sore soon. Jesus Jack wanted to bring his make up kit. No matter how great the concert is and no matter how good a time we have tonight, it’s going to be impossible to hide all this in the morning.