Our very humble meager lifestyle at the projects along Paisano Drive had us situated just across the street from the Dudley Field parking lot.
The El Paso Sun Kings ballpark would light up the sky above the barrio at night. Little flying beetles we called “frijolitos” would buzz around the street lights as we sat outside listening to the game announcer: “Up to bat and playing left field is Vic Roznoski”, and the crowd would cheer.
As we enjoyed the day’s dissipating heat, niñas would draw a crooked mamaleche pattern on the sidewalk using leftover chalk from school. Their game markers would be a pair of bobby pins linked together or fichas from soda bottles.
Other kids would have a game of Las Escondidas. A friend and I would conduct a little experiment: I’d stand half a block from him and I’d point at the moon and argue it was closer to me than to him. And he would then disagree, and a mini debate would ensue for no more than five minutes.
Then we’d get distracted by the flying frijolitos that we would try to catch.
The baseball games came and went. Day games, evening games. Mi papa never took me out to the ball game. And did I ever ask him to? Hell no. We left him alone – that was another house rule.
Dejenlo en paz.
But my wise brother Toño took me to see an exhibition game between the Kings and the major league San Francisco Giants. The huge crowd was there to see the legend Willie Mays knock a few out of the park that day. Thanks, bro.
A big burly man at 6’2” and 245, papa was old school and had other interests. He had a knack for impromptu outings: like an overnight camp-out literally at Mount Franklin’s foothills – way up there in the sticks.
We’d arrive at dusk and he’d point me in safe direction to go explore while he put a camp fire together. On the menu: chuletas ( coyotes were salivating, I’m sure ).
Mama loved it cause she just sat back and relaxed. I had a good time but it was kinda weird to me to be out there…imagine camping out with the moon’s landscape as the background.
Another time papa decided to go visit his cousin Consuelo Larrea. I woke up with my brother shaking me, “Get ready, papa wants to go to Chihuahua”. Then he tells me its 230 miles away…nela canela I want to sleep in! But no, even though it was early on a Saturday morning we had a quick snack, packed some bags and we hit the road in our 1958 Chieftan Pontiac.
My brother drove all the way; and on a lonely stretch of road, I hopped on his lap and took the wheel. He didn’t let up much on the gas, and I felt like Mario Andretti.
Then there were the Friday nights when we’d go to the Ascarate Drive-In to see a mariachi movie. He liked Antonio Aguilar ( his tocayo ), and Pedro Infante. Others we’d listen to at home were Javier Solis and Jorge Negrete. They made up our household’s record rotation along with Trio Los Duendes and Sarita Montiel.
But by far, papa’s favorite pastime were “las corridas de toros”. He never missed one during the summer season. And since we frequently visited mis abuelos in Juarez it was hard to miss the huge cartelones positioned at street corners advertising the upcoming bullfights.
Las corridas were scheduled twice a month on Sundays at 5 p.m. And if that wasn’t enough, papa’s enthusiasm for the sport stretched further. He had me fitted in a tailor-made traje de novillero I wore to La Plaza Alberto Balderas or La Plaza Monumental.
Our typical day’s preparation for a bullfight in Juarez went like this: After crossing the bridge, go to la peluqueria across the street from La Plaza de Toros Alberto Balderas. My haircut “natural claro”, was fifty cents.
Papa would get a shave and a haircut, and I was always amazed at how he never flinched when the hot towel was placed on his face.
From there we’d go the Mercado Juarez, the historic icon along la 16 de septiembre. Ese mercado es mas viejo que el caldo. At the market mama would buy produce, pan dulce and Cafe Cotera – the yellow and red packaging had a monkey logo on it.
After a couple hours papa would emerge like an upright bear from his den squinting and ready to face the day…mas o menos. We’d go visit my abuelos and get some take out from a taqueria at the end of the block.
An order of beef flautas came with shredded lettuce, guacamole and crema, washed down with an ice-cold Coca.
At the parking entrance to La Plaza Monumental was an awesome bronze sculpture titled “El Encierro”, depicting a horseman followed by five bulls on their way to the corral.
I have always felt this monument to be a great work of art and I would stare at it from every angle as we slowly drove past it. It was here in the early sixties that we saw the living legends Manuel Capetillo, Alfredo Leal, Luis Procuna and Joselito Huerta.
These were los mero meros.
Like a miniature novice matador in my traje, I walked hand in hand towards the entrance and up the cement steps of La Plaza with a giant father figure that my Tio Nando dubbed, “búfalo”. We were an amusing site of scale, girth and proportion…I looked like a diminutive wind-up tin toy by comparison.
One Sunday afternoon we witnessed a torero’s brilliant performance as he showed off excellent finess and bravura. At the end of a remarkable round, he circled the ring accepting the thunderous applause while the band’s victorious music filled the packed arena.
Everyone was on their feet. Some women tossed a shoe or two as they waited with baited breath to see which would be picked up by the afternoon’s hero. Hundreds of white kerchiefs waved left and right.
Men threw their hats into the ring in approval and others sent their bota bags flying.
One landed near the matador. Without missing a step, he picked up the wine bag and had himself a shot, much to the delight of the crowd that continued to cheer and chant in unison, “Torero-torero”.
Caught up in the excitement, I pulled on papa’s sleeve and reached for his hat,”Papa, deme su sombrero para aventarlo”. “Quitate, quitate!”, he said brushing me away like a pesty fly. I turned back to see hats, shoes, flowers and roses on the the dirt in the bullring. For a munchkin my age, it was a spectacle to behold.
I walked to our car exhausted from an afternoon of bullfights. Papa bought me a souvenir banderilla with the understanding that the safety cork end would remain on the tip, and it would be placed up on a wall at home – to be looked at but not played with.
I was happy with that deal as I carried the banderilla and walked my novillero walk, hand in hand with mi papa, “el búfalo”.