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Jose Rico – Beyond the Barrio: Tweety Bird, Ofelia and the Overnight Makeover

In the Southern California town of La Puente, my sister Gloria shared a home with her good friend Ofelia. One summer in July I visited my sister and upon arrival, I immediately noticed Ofelia’s collection of Tweety Bird figurines all over the kitchen and living room.

Tiny plastic Tweetys, porcelain Tweetys…so many of them “decorated” the place. It was a large collection that included framed pictures of the silly cartoon birdie – there was even a Tweety rug ( don’t step on it ).

The most memorable item was hanging from the ceiling, in the living room’s corner. It was a large yellow plastic cage with a seven inch tall Tweety Bird perched on a swing.

Ofelia said, “Walk up to it”. So I did; and when I was a couple feet away, Tweety proclaimed in a loud, squeaky voice, “ I tawt I taw a puutty cat!”

I cracked up thinking, no home is complete without a Tweety Bird Cage motion-sensor alarm – cause you never now who’s gonna be coming in late at night.

Ofelia owned a modest three bedroom house in what appeared to be a quiet neighborhood. To my surprise, before

I woke up on my very first morning there, I was startled by the crowing of a neighbor’s old rooster. It sounded like it was sitting on a fence just a few feet from my bedroom window.

And when I say an old rooster, I mean he sounded old…or sick.

He had a gravelly crow that hardly sounded like a typical “cock-a-doddle-do”. No, this “foul fowl” was bellowing with a very rusty windpipe. It sounded more like, “Er-er-er-er-errr!”….with a slurring at the end that trailed off which made it both annoying and amusing.

So for the next six mornings I was awakened by the day-breaking or glass-breaking rooster with a sore throat

During my visit, one of the first attractions I was fortunate to see was the Getty Center, located about eight miles north of Santa Monica. The J Paul Getty Museum showcases Greek and Roman artifacts, a separate building where a photography exhibit is housed, American and European art, impressive architecture and wonderfully designed gardens.

“Perseus” Ricci
“Irises” Van Gogh

We spent the day wandering and engaged for almost five hours, mesmerized by multiple classic paintings by the masters.

One of which was “Perseus Confronting Phineus with the Head of Medusa” by Italian painter Sebastian Ricci, circa 1705–1710.

But an especially unforgettable piece by Van Gogh titled “Irises”, actually brought a tear to my eye.

“Sunflowers” Van Gogh

I simply could not believe that I was standing a few feet from the 1889 painting by the Dutch artist – who had completed at least 300 works in his lifetime, but never sold a one. Fast forward to the late 80’s when a tycoon purchased Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” for 39.9 million. Not only is life unfair, its damn ironic.

During my stay Ofelia would come and go, leaving my sister in charge of the house. On certain days we’d have a catch-up chat with Ofelia. In my vacation-mode relaxed state I was up to socializing anytime.

Sometimes Ofelia’s boyfriend, Steve, would stop by to pick her up. One afternoon the four of us sat in the living room chatting for a while when the conversation took a turn. Ofelia began reminiscing about her late brother Tomas.

The story took place in the very same home when her daughter Cecilia was only eight years of age. Cecilia always looked forward to her uncle’s visit. They would all go to the beach, Disneyland or Sea World and have a grand time. At the end of the day they settled in for a quiet night and Tomas would neatly tuck and pull the bedding around Cecilia and then he brushed her long hair.

Ofelia would sit close by reading a favorite bedtime story.

As a year or so went by, the tragic early passing of Tomas saddened family and friends. Things were not the same anymore. At bedtime, a heartbroken Cecilia would cry herself to sleep.

One morning Ofelia was awakened by her daughter’s desperate call, “Mama, mama!” Ofelia ran to her Cecilia’s bedroom to find her in bed, covers tucked around her evenly and her hair had also been nicely brushed. “Oh”, gasped Ofelia, “your Uncle Tomas stopped by to visit you!”

Steve, and I sat there listening, transfixed. He broke the augmented pause by saying,”This is freaking me out!” I then thought to myself, he’s freaked out? I have three more vacation days to spend in this house!

Gloria was quiet when Ofelia turned to her and said, “Isn’t it true Gloria?” Smiling, my sister replied, “Yes, it happened to me too. I woke up one morning with my covers nicely tucked in and my hair was brushed as well.”

As I sat there frozen in place Steve got up and said, “Okay, time for us to go….”, and he and Ofelia left to wherever they were going. My guess is that Steve wanted to go have a shot or two of Jose Cuervo.

Because of the hot summer nights, my bedroom window and door always remained open. That evening, I couldn’t get the story out of my head. I was no longer distracted with anticipation of the morning’s sounds of a sick rooster.

My senses were now heightened. I laid there in a sleepless state still as could be, not wanting to move one bit. It was late and the house was very quiet. All I could hear was my breathing.

Then, from the living room I heard a loud squeaky voice say, “I tawt I taw a puuty cat”. I gulped. The tweety bird cage sensor had gone off – something had walked close to it!

Then, silence again.

In the darkened house I finally fell asleep ….with one eye open and one eye closed.

***

Jose Oswaldo RicoLeave a comment! I’d like to hear from you.

José Oswaldo Rico, Guest Contributor Previous  columns HERE

El Barrio Del Diablo: Fast Forward to the Music – A Case of Mistaken Identity

I wear sunglasses a lot. It could be overcast or raining, and I have them on. I’ve watched movies in a theater with shades on. And if I’m in a pool…no question. So like Jake and Elwood Blues, its nighttime and I’m wearing sunglasses…

I’m strolling along the strip in Vegas enjoying a pleasant night’s breeze and the multitude of colored lights that just go on forever like jewels against a dark desert sky. As I casually scan the sites I notice a couple a distance away, heading in my direction and they’re both looking at me.

Countless times I have noticed people staring at me in public, in various locations, but they are never aware that they also are being watched in return–with my eyes hidden behind a pair of Ray Bans. The couple is about thirty feet away so I pretend to stare at the swaying dances of the Bellagio fountains on my right, but I keep my vision on the couple.

As they get closer, the man turns his gaze away but the woman continues her ogling. As they pass close by she says,”Is that who I think it is?” The man answers,”It sure does look like him”.

This exchange left me to wonder,”Don’t they know that I can hear them? And, who do they think I am anyway?”

It was one of those odd moments.

**

Fast forward to a northwest setting: I sit waiting in my car at the Lakewood Park & Ride, a transit center just south of Tacoma, on a dark rainy evening. My son’s bus hasn’t arrived. He’s commuting from Seattle from an art gallery so I’m his ride home. The express buses are coming in every twenty minutes but he’s still not on any of them.

Multiple buses come and go; restless, I change radio stations trying to pass the time. I turn the music down low and listen to the rain come down when there’s a knock on my window. I turn to see a man looking in and I’m wondering what he needs. I glance at him. He doesn’t look shifty, so I roll down the window a couple inches.

“What’s up”, I ask. He begins,”Sorry to disturb you sir, but do you happen to have a dollar for a bus ride?” OK, here we go…I should have known…I’ve heard it before dozens of times (I’m sure many of us have). I know the bus system and the fares very well, so I quiz the guy.

“Where you going?” Without a pause he says,”Olympia”.

So I counter with,”And how much do you need?” “A dollar fifty”, he says without hesitation.

I immediately know he’s right and I now feel that he legitimately needs a handout. I give him two bucks, he thanks me several times and wishes me a good evening. I tell him to take it easy.

The real Tony Orlando

He’s about ten steps away when he turns and says, “Sorry again for bothering you, but I have to ask…are you Tony Orlando?”

At this precise moment I need distraction from a half hour of waiting for the right bus to arrive. I’m bored, so I said,”Yes I am”… and then wonder where this is gonna go. He pauses and grins and tells me in an excited voice,”I knew it, I knew it! … wow”, he continues,”glad to meet you!”

I grin and say thank you. Then he looks a little puzzled and says,”Wait, what are you doing here if you don’t mind my asking?” I reply,”I live here. I’m waiting for my son…he works in Seattle.”

“So you’re on vacation?”, he says curiously. “Yes, I’m taking a break and I go back to do some more shows next month”, I say matter-of-factly surprising myself for coming up with that line effortlessly.

He thanks me again and says “I really like your music”. “Thank you”, I reply with a smart-alec grin.

My son’s bus arrives and I notice the man actually does board the Olympia bus just like he said. After opening the passenger door, my son asks,”Who were you talking to?”

“A Tony Orlando fan”, I manage to say with a smirk. I tell him the story on the way home and he listens waiting for me to finish.

He then turns to me and says,”Did he ask you for an autograph?”

I laughed.

Jose Oswaldo RicoLeave a comment! I’d like to hear from you.

José Oswaldo Rico, Guest Contributor Previous  columns HERE

A Dysfunctional Christmas Dinner Story: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

My wife’s family is a large group and an interesting bunch. Interesting in an observational way. Therein lies the basis for casual conversations that can morph unexpectedly and rival any Judge Judy courtroom drama.

Dinners at the in-law’s house has become something of a three ring circus gone wrong. I have seen on many occasion, this scenario play out and evolve precariously: someone wants to share with others a TV program or a bit of news which gets quickly dissected and analyzed by the other family members, to the point of being misconstrued.

They all have an infinite number of personal opinions on any topic – right or wrong. Mostly wrong. They can’t even agree on a good movie, football game, the best singer on the Voice, or which way the wind is blowing. I’m sure many other households share these similarities, but I always think an in-law get-together raises the bar – in a dubious manner.

Here’s the scenario you can picture in your mind:

Take a bunch of people and put them in a living room during or after dinner. Make small talk and share pleasantries and wait for the person who will intentionally or inadvertently raise a question or comment with political connotations. That is almost always a recipe for disaster.

Others may take part on commentary and factoids from the sidelines whether they’re pro, con or simply naysayers….and may sound like this…

“Did you watch Survivor last night?”

“I don’t like that show”

“Why?”

“I don’t like so-and-so”

“I think he’s great”

“I don’t”

“Wasn’t he in that movie…he played a bad guy?”

“That was Dustin Hoffman”

“No, that was Al Pacino”

“Pacino yells too much”

“And, he’s got an Oscar trophy”

“George C. Scott called the Oscars a meat parade”

“Who’s George C. Scott?”

“He played Patton, the four-star general”

“I never saw it”

“What’s a meat parade?”

“I’m trying to eat less meat”

Sigmond Freud would’ve had a field day if he were present. He may have written an entire volume based on family & sibling behavioral interactions. The original two that begun the all-too lively conversation continued their one-upmanship comments, oblivious to their surroundings and fellow vocal relatives who were trying to correct some of the dialogue, or maybe trying to hinder it by making a contradictory statement that should have been better left unsaid.

I used to provide some clarification to conversations as I attempted to jump in with “Wait a minute”, or That’s not accurate”, or “I’m not so sure”, only to be run over by the non-stop verbal jousting.

But last year at the in-law’s house there was a Hollywood moment. After Christmas dinner my brother in law suggested we all contribute a to a charitable organization.

“Hey, how about we all put in a few bucks, whatever we can, and begin a family savings for a for a good cause? Every time we get together we pitch in some more…at the end of the year we could have a very sizable amount. We don’t have to decide what charity now.” “St Jude Hospital”, someone said aloud. “The American Cancer Association”. “The Red Cross”, others piped in. It was a very nice and kind suggestion by my brother in law, but how are all of us going to agree on one agency alone, I wondered?

As if on cue, my mother-in-law jumped from her easy chair and said ,”I have just the decorative box we can use for the donations.” And in a swoosh rushed up the stairs as family members uttered, “Careful on the stairs, mom.”

Before you know it, she’s back with a colorful holiday box; “We can make the opening here on top”, she gestured to everyone displaying the container like a teacher during show and tell. “Oooh, yes”, and “That’s nice”, was heard from onlookers nodding to one another.

As someone who relishes the limelight all too often, my father-in-law seizes the moment by making a declaration: “I’ll be first to make a donation of fifty dollars!”, he proclaims loudly and holds up a Grant note for all to see like a prosecuting attorney showing the jury Exhibit A.

Scattered polite applause that sounded more like golf claps evaporated in the spice filled room. Relatives take turns examining the colorful festive box, as mom-in-law searches faces for approval asking, “What do you think, what do you think?”, not allowing a pause for a response.

The box makes its way back to father-in-law and everyone returns to small talk and a second helping of delicious cinnamon apple pie and ice cream.

Amid the calm, father-in-law suddenly breaks the serene mood with a loud tone,”The fifty is missing!”

You could hear the needle scratch on the record….everyone turned to look at him hoping we all heard wrong. “WHAT?”, most of us manage to say. He repeats himself this time sounding more baffled and bewildered,“The fifty is missing!”

We all look at one another and wonder how the heck that could have happened. All of a sudden Christmas is ruined just like that. People start looking under the sofa cushions, others under the table and chairs. There’s some unwrapped holiday paper wrinkled and folded over in the corner that another person picks up to see if anything falls out from it.

We feel like shrugging our shoulders in unison cause we can’t find the missing fifty dollar bill and imaginations are beginning to think the unthinkable.

Expressions now look concerned and suspect.

Father-in-law has been frozen in place like a pillar of salt all this entire time as he scans the faces in the room looking like a kid who just accidentally broke his favorite Christmas toy. He then says suddenly,”OH!, Hey everybody, never mind. Here it is in my pocket!!!”

We all look at one another….you know what kind of look…..and breathe a sigh of relief and go back to our cinnamon apple pie.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

***

Jose Oswaldo Rico

José Oswaldo Rico, Guest Contributor Previous  columns HERE

Back to the Barrio: A Look Back at Life in the Projects – It’s All Relative

My parents grew up in the Juarez neighborhood known as La Chaveña. The youngest of five, I was the only one born on this side, in El Paso’s St Joseph Medical Clinic.

My siblings all gave their first cries in our grandparents house on the street called La Cinco de Febrero.

We made the move to EP in the mid 50’s moving from one rental house to another. I have blurry recollections of a tot’s life in the 2nd Ward or, El Segundo barrio. It was when we moved to central EP that we settled in the projects next to Paisano Drive from 1960 to 1965.

I fondly recall the countless outings and weekly visits to our abuelos house; it was like clockwork every Sunday.

Next door to my grandparents was my aunt Emma and uncle Fito’s house (who were also my godparents), and at the end of the block was a mighty fine taqueria that served delicious flautas.

I was a quiet kid, never saying much around grown-ups when we visited our relatives. I’d whisper my hellos but mostly listened to the adults and their platica (chats). If asked about school or my scribbly drawings mom would ask me to bring along, I would respond in a painfully shy manner while staring at my shoes. Then, I’d anxiously seek my cousin’s company for a game of hide and seek.

If my cousins weren’t home, I’d slowly stroll around my grandma’s or uncle’s house, gazing into framed images that transported me to another time: Someone in uniform; an older cousin with a somber look and posed slightly to the left. As the adult conversation continued, I stared at my abuelita’s wedding picture and her beautiful gown, and admired my abuelito’s nice suit.

Another photo caught my attention of another wedding party where even the bridesmaid wore a veil. And as we visited other aunts and uncles, I always took time to see the ceremony photos that were prominently displayed and noticed how the wedding party had absentee smiles.

My grandparents Antonio & Francisca Rico

But all these captures had similarities; the dresses were exquisitely detailed and the men’s suits were tailored to perfection. Gloves added class and formality; most of all, the photographer’s composition and capture of light and shadow was immaculate.

As the years passed I still wondered about my parent’s wedding pictures. Why weren’t they displayed? Were they stored away in a box somewhere in the house?

Eventually, with some photography know-how in my later years, I made some very good quality copies of my relative’s vintage photographs using a digital SLR camera with high resolution settings. (My tias would smile as they noticed my camera bag in hand).

I made prints of my grandparents wedding, my aunt and uncles, and sadly, portraits of tios and tias that I haven’t seen in a couple decades. I was now on a mission and wanted to find my parents collection to complete my set of family photos from yesteryear.

So one day at my mom’s I was ready to ask some pointed questions. I approached her and said,”Mama, I’ve seen my abuelo’s and some of my tio’s wedding pictures in their homes – why haven’t I seen yours and dad’s? Did you have a photographer at your wedding?”

“Oh,” she quickly replied,”We couldn’t afford a photographer”. Puzzled, I pressed on, “But you were married in a church in Juarez?” “Yes”, she casually replied, “I wore a pretty dress and a horse and buggy picked me up at my house and took me to the church steps where your dad waited for me.”

With raised eyebrows, I now felt like I was getting somewhere…“Wow mom, how nice….and our relatives were there?” “Of course they were!” (How silly of me to ask).

With the short Q&A over, I was disappointed that we never owned any photos of my parents wedding day. Mom didn’t elaborate and I sat there wondering how we could have pictures of my grandparents, tios and tias, but none of my very own mom an dad. It wasn’t making sense to me.

I sat there with no further questions and left that it at that.

Until much later when the subject came up when discussing family times with my oldest sister Gloria. I could ask her anything and she was the best contact in our immediate family that could clarify and correct any stories or half-truths anybody told.

“Sis”, here’s a question from left field”, I said. She listened to every word of my conversation with our mom and her recollection of her “wedding day”. Gloria nodded slightly with curious attention and the patience of Job. When I finished, she looked at me with a wry smile and uttered, “Mom said that to you?”

With some hesitation in my voice I managed a “yes-s-s?”

Her cheshire cat grin said it all. ”Oh, my!…Dont you know that mom and dad eloped? Se fueron a caballo!” I gasped. “No, I had no idea”. Gloria was now on a roll…there was no stopping this surprising confession, “Her dad, Abuelito Rosendo, never liked our papa! One day he caught our dad running down the block after visiting mom at their apartment. Abuelito went inside, got his gun and came out firing at our dad!”

My grandfather Jose Rosendo Moreno.
(My mom’s gun-totin’ father)

”WHAT?” My eyes got as big as saucers. My sister wrapped this up with, “Papa knew that our Abuelito Rosendo would never approve of their engagement!”

You could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather. Gloria sipped her soda as I sat there speechless, taking it all in. These were big family headlines and I was there to hear it first. Or was I the last to know? I shook my head and left it at that.

Maybe not.

I should have been an investigative journalist because I couldn’t leave this alone. Questions persisted so I continued my mini quest to tie up a loose ending to this story which had taken a major left turn. All I wanted was a copy of my parents wedding picture.

Instead I learned about a grandfather with a gun, my parent’s not-so-secret romance, their elopement and a wedding that never occurred. Sounds like an episode from a mexican novela (soap opera).

Not convinced about any of what I had been told, I sought my Tio Abelardo’s version. Mom’s younger brother, he had moved into our house after my dad had passed, and kept my mom company for many years. I was visiting them when the right moment came. I casually began the conversation with one of his favorite topics: old cinema.

He loved talking about movie stars from the golden era, enjoyed sharing trivia and at times it was hard to get him to stop. I casually switched topics and asked him about my parents eloping.

“Tio, I need some clarification. I was talking with mom about her wedding day, and she mentioned a horse and buggy picked her up and took her to the church”. He listened. “So, I told Gloria that story and she was surprised, because she told me my parents eloped. She said Abuelo Rosendo did not like my dad and caught him leaving his apartment. He got his gun and shot at my dad as he ran down the block”.

Relaxed and composed, my Tio said,”Yes, he had a gun…but he didn’t shoot bullets at your dad. They were blanks!” He nonchalantly got up to get his coffee in the kitchen where mom was reading the paper.

I didn’t know know whether to laugh or yell out loud in frustration. Running the layered account in my mind, from beginning to end, I realized this story had multiple endings…depending on which relative I asked.

I sat there shaking my head and I left it at that.

***

Jose Oswaldo RicoJosé Oswaldo Rico, Guest Contributor Previous  columns HERE

El Barrio del Diablo: FastForward to the Music – My 2nd Rock Show

December 1969: A couple months had gone by since the Steppenwolf concert and I wondered what band would be next to rock the county cow barn.

As I inked my drawings one evening with the local FM rock station on in the background, I flipped in delight when a radio spot announced the Iron Butterfly were scheduled to play the Coliseum.

ironbtflI was ecstatic. I’d been a fan for almost a year and owned their first three albums. BALL, their third LP, was played daily on my tired old turntable.

The previous year, “In a Gadda da Vida” was released to critical acclaim becoming a massive commercial hit for the band. The album produced an abridged single for AM radio play, clocking in at 2:52, while FM rock aficionados were treated to the entire seventeen minute psychedelic anthem.

The album was a study in itself. It sold 30 million records world wide, guitarist Eric Brann was a mere 17 years young when the LP was released, and the title song was recorded in one take. Very impressive by 1969’s standards.

On the day of the show I arrived around 4:30, and couldn’t stop looking at the marquee with the band’s name in big black letters. It was a wow moment for me – this event was my second rock show and I had a feeling I’d be witnessing music history along with several thousand other fans.

The huge delivery doors that faced Paisano Drive were still open and no one was around.

As I nonchalantly walked inside the Coliseum’s main floor I was immediately distracted and puzzled with the stage set up. It was centered on the east side of the venue atop the first few rows of bleachers, above the cement wall that separated the floor from the stands.

irnbtvBecause of this layout, the entire half of the seating on the east side was closed.

It looked odd, and it was unusual to see the staging so high up above where the audience would be – on the cement floor.

Gone was the intimate four foot stage that was predominantly used in so many of those late sixties–early seventy shows.

Eventually, my lingering was noticed and I had to leave and wait outside for the main doors to open.

Evening came and a large crowd had gathered in front of the main doors. Once we were let in, many fans walked down a big ramp that had been set up to allow access to the floor from the bleacher section.

I made my way to the tall stage as close as possible as hundreds of others had also joined in sitting festival style. At showtime, a local band called McKatush were first up – a garage type trio that covered popular hits like The Plastic Ono Band’s “Cold Turkey”.

They rocked it good, and what a gig it was for them to open for such a high profile and established rock band.

After intermission the lights dimmed and amid the cheers, I was puzzled to see a couple spotlights reveal several dignitaries alongside the members of the Iron Butterfly.

The band was being honored for their “In a Gadda da Vida” album’s mega sales and popularity in Mexico, and were presented with butterfly pendants that were placed around their paisley shirt collars.

The four guys stood sheepishly at the front of the stage as the presenters posed for a photo-op with the “band of the year.” The camera’s flash ended the impromptu Kodak moment and as some polite applause dissipated, the band quickly took their places ridding the the moment of the awkward formalities.

concert3
Eric Brann, Guitar • Ron Bushy, Drums • Lee Dorman, Bass • Doug Ingle, Organ & vocals

The opening guitar riffs to “You Cant Win” tore into the air.

It was loud and heavy, just as expected.

The band then cranked out “Flowers and Beads”, “Soul Experience”, “In the Time of our Lives”, without any banter in between the music.

As their set continued into the evening with their psychedelic colored compositions, the final entry was no surprise to everyone as the keyboard’s familiar intro notes to “In a Gadda da Vida” was met with thunderous applause.

In the middle of the long jam, during Ron Bushy’s trademark drum solo, guitarist Eric Brann stood close to the drum kit, bouncing in place as he hooted and hollered indian style.

The crowd loved the long anthem and rose to an ovation as the last note was played.

For the encore the band churned out the Iron Butterfly Theme; a slow, hypnotic instrumental from their first album, accented with Doug Ingle’s haunting background vocals within parts of the densely electrified music. I was in awe; the Butterfly enveloped the audience with a powerful and dream-like sound that closely paralleled their studio albums.

It was a show I have never forgotten.

I’ve heard first hand stories of what acid trips are like and in retrospect, The Iron Butterfly Theme’s layered effects and heavy production could be the epitome of tripping out on LSD.

Google the song and if you listen to all four minutes and thirty-five seconds, you’ll need to be snapped out of your trance when its over.

1969 gave way to the new year and after witnessing a couple of heavy rock acts just months apart, I wasn’t prepared for what was headed to EP.

Do you recall any rock shows from that era? Leave a comment! I’d like to hear from you.

Jose Oswaldo RicoJosé Oswaldo Rico, Guest Contributor

Previous  columns HERE

El Barrio del Diablo: Life in Montoya – Nature Calls

In 1965 we moved to the outskirts of town to the Upper Valley. After living in the projects for five years, it was a bit weird for me to get used to this unincorporated area in west El Paso.

It looked like a barren countryside for miles as we traveled West Paisano Drive (CanAm Highway), from downtown, then connected to Doniphan to get to Montoya. Whenever we went to Juarez my dad always took this route.

Screen Shot 2017-02-11 at 9.26.31 AMBut that was his drag of choice: West Doniphan Drive…or Highway 80.

A long stretch of lonely road that started from ASARCO’s Smeltertown and extended to the New Mexico border near the town of Anthony – roughly fifteen miles as the crow flies.

The street lamps at night became so few and far between that from my POV in the backseat of the car, some lights seemed to cast ghostly shadows on the road and the brush.

I guess I watched too many scary movies.

To say there weren’t many businesses out here would be an understatement; a lone traveler would certainly be in a tight spot if their car broke down or ran out of gas.baarber

So it was another one of those Saturdays when we all piled into the car and traveled across the border to visit relatives and buy groceries.

On this day my older brother Vince drove, papa rode shotgun and mom and I were in the back. Since dad was relaxed in having a designated driver, I’m sure he had visions of his favorite fire-water beverages dancing in his head.

monoWe stopped at a peluqueria and got our haircuts at a nice barber shop across the street from the Plaza de Toros Alberto Balderas. And mom always shopped at the Mercado for produce, pan dulce and other snacks.

I’d buy a goofy looking puppet and maybe a spinning top.

Somewhere else along the way papa would get a wooden crate of 24 sixteen-ounce soda bottles.

Half of it were all Cocas, the rest a mix of Seven Up, orange and strawberry flavors.coke

He also bought his two cartons of red Marlboros and would gas up the car with Pemex fuel.

Next, we’d go see our abuelos. My Tio Fito and Tia Ema lived alongside so we also visited with them and stayed a while. Out of sheer convenience, papa would go to the corner bar and have a few.

And after that he’d have a few more.

tresNext on the list was a birthday celebration at our Tia Quica’s house, papa’s favorite sister. They lived past La Plaza de Toros Monumental, over by El Seminario . We spent the entire day there, enjoying good food, cake, sodas, games and music.

There was a pomegranate bush in the front yard and we’d pick a couple ripe ones, spending a long time peeling it carefully to get the juicy seeds out. Kept us out of pometrouble.

At the end of a long afternoon of fun and games, it all came to a close. We hugged our tios and said our long goodbyes, waving adios as we drove away.

Tio Rogelio and Tia Quica were always wonderful to all of us – I liked going to their house a lot.

While we waited in line at the bridge over by the Chamizal, we slowly approached the customs agent booth.

bridgeStill feeling the inebriated buzz from his day’s intake, papa gave me some border-crossing advice: “Waldo…cuando te pregunta el señor en donde naciste, dile que eres nalgas prietas”. Mom giggled, Vince laughed and I didn’t get it.

Why I would want to tell a customs agent that my butt was brown?

We greeted the agent, crossed over and no, I didn’t take my dad’s advice.

The sun had set and it was still another warm night as we drove into town, heading home on the same route along Paisano. Tired from a long day of visiting and partying it was quiet inside the car as we passed up the last of the fading city lights.

The evening got pitch black except for the dashboard’s glow and the high beams shining on the road a couple hundred feet ahead. I don’t recall much traffic at all, it was just another quiet night.

Doniphan Drive had no shoulder; just dirt that led to the many bushes and brush that paralleled the road about fifty feet from the asphalt. We were about ten miles from home when Papa broke the silence. “Para el carro, tengo que hacer”. Vince pulled over on command, slowed to a stop and our extra-extra large father figure got out. I whispered, “What did he say?”, Mom replied, “Tiene que hacer chi”. “Oh, he’s gotta pee,” I said.

He walked about thirty feet from the car close to the bushes with lots of room to spell his name on the ground if he wanted. In the quiet of night, with zero traffic around we all waited. Then we hear him say aloud: “Necesito papel”. We looked at one another. “What?” I said in amazement, “He needs paper? He pooped outdoors? Really?”

Like magic, mom grabs a roll I didn’t know we had in the back seat and hands it to Vince, volunteering him. “Toño, llevaselo”. Vince grabs the roll, looks at me … and says, “Here, take this to him”. Oh no…I got handed the hot potato…do I give it back to mom? … I thought about it for half a second. Meanwhile papa is waiting.

I sighed out loud and as I opened the door a car suddenly drove by on our side of the road. I froze. Their high beams lit everything up in its path: all of us, papa and the entire scene around him, including the evidence.

That moment was like a scene in a movie – when a UFO lights up the entire countryside at night. The brightness illuminated all of us like a big round prison spotlight.

Screen Shot 2017-02-11 at 9.46.38 AMBusted, and what timing. Obviously the people in the passing car witnessed a full moon that night – and so much more. My door was still open and as I sat there momentarily, I could not believe this turn of events. I reluctantly got out of the car and walked sideways towards a very unconcerned father.

Trying not to look in his direction, I edged myself closer to where my peripheral vision sees an outstretched hand. He grabs the roll and I want to run, but I walk back humiliated and get back in the car.

As we wait in the car I turn to see him buckling his belt, standing over the object of his creation. And as if it were a pet he looks down and gestures at it with a pointing finger saying loudly, “Ahí te voy a dejar, y mañana vengo a recojerte”.

“I’m leaving you there, and I will pick you up tomorrow”.

Mom giggled out loud, Vince laughed like I have never heard before, and I shook my head in disbelief.

Papa got in the car and without a word we all continued home in silence as if nothing had happened – oblivious to the moonrise coming out from behind Mount Franklin.

Jose Oswaldo RicoJosé Oswaldo Rico, Guest Contributor

Previous  columns HERE

El Barrio Del Diablo: Life in Montoya – Dude, Where’s My Car?

In 1965, two weeks after starting sixth grade, we moved to a neighborhood in Montoya in the Upper Valley; traveling west on Doniphan, we turned left on Montoya Road to our house at 371 Ontiveros Street. The following story occured in the 1967. I was 13, out of school for the summer and ready to goof off for three months. Nothing could go wrong.

Papa owned a 4 door, all-white 1959 Oldsmobile and worked swing shift at Border Steel Mills. I became a chauffeur by default at the age of 12, when I started driving the Olds on the side roads to take mom to the grocery store.

She shopped at Farmer’s Market located at the NE corner of the “crossroads” – where Mesa Street ends at Doniphan Drive. It was one of those family stores with a diner inside, but its long since gone.

Summer days were moving right along and there was a little family reunion at our house. My oldest sister Gloria, came to visit from L.A., and likewise, my other sister Vicky and her husband Charles drove all the way from Fort Wayne, Indiana in a VW bug.

My brother Vince was noticeably absent, stationed overseas in Da Nang, Viet Nam. Concerned for his well being on a daily basis, we all watched the CBS evening news with Walter Cronkite  – hoping and praying the war with North Viet Nam would end.

Screen Shot 2016-11-12 at 7.49.50 PM (1)Papa’s all-time favorite watering hole and “second home” was Los Cuatro Vientos in Juarez, just across the street from El Mercado.

He’d easily spend an average of four hours getting loaded, smoking his Marlboro’s, bullshitting with friends, singing, playing “dados” ( yahtzee ), smoking and getting loaded some more.

Then he’d get in his car and drive home, negotiating turns and traffic lights in a condition that would alarm the most hardened city cops.

He somehow avoided getting pinched by the mexican police, crossed the border hoping the U.S. Customs agents wouldn’t detain him, avoided the El Paso police and the State Patrol along the Doniphan corridor to Montoya – for a total of 15 miles. Amazingly, he would make it home in one piece and collapse on his bed.bridge

We were always beyond relieved when he got home.

I couldn’t help but feel that it was miraculous every time he went to Juarez and returned home in such a state. Papa must have had a giant-sized guardian angel as his co-pilot.

It had to be Gabriel, the Archangel. Because of having to watch over such a high-maintenence mortal, an extremely fatigued Gabriel must have made weekly appointments with his therapist.

When papa finally quit drinking cold turkey in 1970 due to doctor’s orders, I bet that poor angel put in for an early retirement and bought a beach front home in Malibu. He earned it big time.

One afternoon during the visit, Gloria, Vicky and Charles were chatting in the living room. Mom turned to me and said, “Go get your dad’s

Mi papa, Antonio Rico Rubio ( 1965 )
Mi papa, Antonio Rico Rubio ( 1965 )

thermos and lunchbox from out of the car. I need to get his things ready soon”.

Papa’s shift started around 5 pm and the big bear was in his den snoring away. I went out to the car, walked around to the driver’s side…and stopped dead on my tracks.

I was standing next to a white Oldsmobile with a design on the side of the car. It had a sideways1959 Oldsmobile-32 V-shaped paint job that came to a point at the front door and widened further back towards the rear left fender. It was a shade of aqua with aluminum trim.

“What?”, I said to myself outloud, “That is not our car. Ours is solid white!” Confused, I opened the door thinking that Papa’s thermos and lunchbox would be on the front seat.

Wrong. No thermos, no nothin’…and, the interior was a completely different color. I sensed something really bad and ran back in the house. Mom was in the kitchen making another batch of flour tortillas. I told her the car outside wasn’t ours.

With a puzzled face she followed me, and I pointed to the color trim on the sides. Her expression changed to a look of concern as I opened the car door and revealed the interior. Panic set in.

She ran back inside and interrupted the conversation in the living room. Gloria, Vicky and Charles’ expressions changed in less than a heartbeat as they all hoofed it quickly out the door.

With mom and I close behind, my eyes shifted from one family member to another. There was murmuring and there was whispering. Perplexed, we all went back inside.

I sat with the others in the living room. Do we wake dad up? Are you kidding? He worked hard and we had an unwritten rule to never-ever wake him – unless the place was on fire.

Thankfully it never came to that; mom and I monitored him and would slip the cigarette away from his fingers at times when he dozed off.

So we faced a most unusual dilemma as I Iistened to my sisters discuss the “what, who, why, where and whens”. I sat transfixed, wondering what the hell could have happened. My thirteen year old mind was not able to attempt a detective’s process of elimination. The words “That is not our car”, were still ringing in my head…sounding like a broken record.

The first thing everyone asked about was dad’s set of keys. Yes, they were his. Mom and I checked them out and verified it.

Bewildered, we looked at oner another and asked, “How could this happen? How could these keys fit a totally different car?”

David Copperfield would be totally impressed. He would have hired Papa and used him in a new Vegas act, “And now, the Amazing Antonio and his wonder car!”

We talked over this scenario: Papa always parked close to the bar’s entrance. The other Olds must have been close by or worse, directly next to our car.

As he walked out of the bar with a giant-sized buzz, Murphy’s Law had set him up to fail: he walks up to the wrong car, the keys opened the wrong door and he was able to start the wrong ignition. Three strikes in a row…a triple-whammy. What are the odds? And where was the parking attendant…also in the bar?

A creature of habit in his altered state, the only thought in his foggy mind was to drive home and he did; in a mostly white Oldsmobile. Hey, close enough….I can end the story here.

After more discussion, a plan was hatched: first on the list was to take dad’s keys and return the imposter Olds and park it close to the bar as discreetly as possible – at 2 in the afternoon in the middle of summer, no less.

We held our breath and hoped our Oldsmobile would still be there in order to pull off the ol’ switcheroo. And that’s how it went down.

Gloria drove the mystery car while Vicky and Charles followed in the VW.

Mom and I stayed home and waited a couple long hours, till we finally heard them drive up. It was dad’s white Olds with Gloria behind the wheel and Vicky and Charles right behind.

They made it back in time – Papa was gonna be getting up soon. I wasn’t in on any additional conversation and don’t know if mom had any pointed questions once everyone returned. I was just glad that our car was back so I went to a friend’s house.

My sisters were setting the table as I walked out the door.

During dinner I’m sure that Gloria, Vicky and Charles dissected the day’s adventure – analyzing it once more in greater detail, then they probably turned to our quiet mom and said, “Great chile rellenos, mama”.

Did anyone tell Papa about this escapade? Hell no. Knowing my family, this unusual matter fell into a category you readers know very well as “better left unsaid”. And I never again thought about the mysterious Oldsmobile and who it belonged to. One of his drinking buddies? The bartender? A tourist?

But there was one thing. I should have stuck around that afternoon when Papa entered the picture and sat at the dinette table, with everyone’s curious eyes upon him.

Finishing his meal and coffee, and getting up to leave to work in his stoic manner, and with a five-day hangover for sure, I wish I could have said to him with a cat-that-ate-the-canary look on my face, “Have a nice day, papa”.

And Gabriel? I can’t thank you enough.

Jose Oswaldo RicoJosé Oswaldo Rico, Guest Contributor

Previous  columns HERE

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