More Bitter Than Sweet

It seems some days you never need leave the house.

I'd been contacted from one of Nikki Young's people.  (And yes, Nikki — or should I say PrimaDonna Productions — has people.  Indeed.  Loads of 'em!)  A pleasant intern phoned me to confirm an address to mail me a newspaper article containing a photo of me that Nikki's clipping service (um, her grandmother) had set aside.  For me.  The intern actually drove to my place.  Not only did I get my clipping, but I was able to hand off some DVDs I'd authored for PDP.

The article in questions is from back in late September.  San Antonio Express-News writer Elda Silva had been interviewing Malena, Ramon, and Deborah about the up-coming Dia de Artistas parade / festival on an afternoon I just happened to drop by the Deco Building.  And since I had a part in the event, I spoke some with Ms. Silva.  And then photographer Robert McLeroy showed up.  I wasn't as nimble of foot as I'd thought, and there's a bit of my head in a group shot.  But, they spelled my name right.  On a page deeper in the “S.A. Life” section, there is something of a sidebar mentioning me and the documentary Ramon, Deborah, and I put together.

But the best part, are the notations penciled in the margins by Nikki's grandmother.  The personal touch, you gotta love it!

About an hour later, after I had hung up my laundry, my neighbor Marlyss came by to ask a question about sound effects for an installation she plans in conjunction with a show of her art in a few weeks.  It sounds pretty cool.  I told her I'd give her some samples to work with.  Her family is a part-owner of the La Tuna Grill here in the neighborhood.  I explained I was working on a short film and I needed a location.  A garage, or something similar where a band would practice.  For some reason, this old neighborhood in which I live isn't rife with garages.  She told me she'd ask a friend who has an old warehouse on S. Flores.  Sounds promising.

Now if only cash would come to my door.

I did, however, drag my ass outside … beyond the washing lines.  I headed down the Mission trail for a bike ride.  It was in the mid '60s, but windy as hell.  Fine with me in days, like today, with the wind behind me on the ride back.  The return trip should always be more pleasant.

Afterwards, I hit the Pik-Nik convenience store for an armload of cheap tacos.

As I walked inside, I cringed a bit, because two steps in front of me was this local “character.”  I've already written about him.  A mentally challenged guy who resembles a thirty-year-old Clint Howard.  He can frequently be spotted pan-handling the King William and Lavaca neighborhoods.  I'm pretty sure he lives in the half-way house across the street from Brackenridge High School.  He was looking tan and healthier and ever.  Things were going well for him it seemed.

He stood at the taco counter staring at a spot up on the wall.  I politely stood behind him and gave a cursory nod to the taco woman.  And quite suddenly (as though he were nipped by a flying rainbow lobster only he could see) Clint gave a start.  His eyes fell into focus.

“One bean and cheese taco,” he whispered.

The taco woman's command of English is, effectively, nil.  However, she said, clear enough so I could follow, “Bean and cheese.  One taco?  Two taco?”

I think she wanted clarification because the price break is by pairs of tacos.  A single is, I don't know, like 70 cents.  But for a dollar you get two.  So, I think she heard him, she was just reminding him of the better deal.

Clint was back to watching that little spot high on the wall.  The taco woman repeated herself, holding up one finger, and then two fingers.  Her English (simple, though effective) and her sign language were lost on Clint. He was somewhere else.  I made eye-contact with her and smiled.  She gave just the slightest hint of an eye-roll.  I couldn't hold it in, and laughed aloud.  I was leaning over to nudge Clint, but the lobster nipped anew.  His shoulders straightened, and he said, “One bean and cheese taco.”  The taco woman went to work.

After she's put his order in a bag and handed it off to him, I moved up and asked for, in English, “Four bean and cheese tacos.”  I held up four fingers.  The taco woman did roll her eyes and even forced a smile.

By the time my tacos were ready, Clint was still at the register, trying to mentally focus enough to pay for his taco.  I moved beside him, next in line.  Finally, he just gave up and placed all his coins on the counter.  At this point I assumed he realized that for 30 more cents her could get another taco.  And I was right.

“I'm going back for one more taco,” he said softly, holding aloft a finger.  He nodded decisively, and returned to the grill counter.  I watched the taco woman's lips compress into something that was no smile.

The effete cashier, who wore more jewelry than most men in this neighborhood would wear before nightfall, softly said something to the taco woman so quickly in Spanish that I missed it.  Then, in English, to Clint: “Sir you don't have enough here for two tacos.”

I was hoping things were going to get interesting … and fast.  But, nope.  The cashier rang me up, and Clint walked out with no argument.  He took his taco and left his dimes and pennies on the counter.

I was afraid he'd hit me up for money when I walked outside.  But when I got into my truck, Clint was leaning against the building at the corner where the dumpsters are.  As he ate his taco, I watched him obliviously move closer to a heavily tattooed mexicano talking on the pay-phone.  The guy sneered at Clint, and moved in closer to the security of the abbreviated metal hood surrounding the wall phone.  On top of the phone box, the tattoo guy had placed this adorable Chihuahua puppy, which had gone all chubby, but was still no larger than a blender.  It seemed a precarious place to stick a delicate lapdog, but it was none of my business.  I eased behind the wheel and slammed the door.  It occurred to me that the tattoo guy had come to the pay-phone on his bicycle, which was leaning against the wall beside him.  He didn't have a bag or a backpack — not even a basket on his bike.  He must have been riding around holding the dog.  The tattoo guy clutched tighter on the phone and shook his head.  He fished in his pocket for change.  And then he looked up and stared incredulously at his dog.  Clint, still clutching the wad of foil which had held his taco, was staring again at that little spot.  But this time it was on the roof of the laundromat on the other side of the parking-lot.  The Chihuahua was blissfully licking a bit of bean residue from the corner of Clint's mouth.

I think something little, but something nonetheless, must have died that moment inside the tattoo guy.  He tucked the dog under his arm, held the receiver against his shoulder with his jaw, and began feeding coins in the phone, his back turned resolutely on Clint.  But Clint was a long distance removed from Pik-Nik, the phone booth, and I suspect he was far, far away from those flying rainbow lobsters.

As I cranked the engine, I noticed that hanging from the handlebars of the tattoo guy's bike was one of those illustrated religious air-fresheners that Catholic gift shops sell to hang from the car's back mirror.  It was of Santo Niño de Atocha.  There are those times when a camera would come in so handy.  UFO sightings, and moments like this afternoon.  Those semi-sweet Diane Arbus moments.

This is the best I can manage.   


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