By Janis Bultman
Published in San Jose Studies, Fall 1994
Where I live—it’s weird. First of all, my street used to be a canal, just like one of those stinky canals a few blocks over where all the rich folks live. But mine is paved over and we’re not so close to the beach.
I live with my mom and we’re pretty normal. She’s divorced. Every morning she gets up and puts on nice clothes and takes the bus to Century City. Then she comes home and gives me dinner and goes out again. That’s the routine. She trusts me to take care of myself.
I hang out with my gang, V-13, and go to school now and then. I’m a good kid. I don’t give anybody any trouble. Don’t listen to Ricky Phelan. What does he know? He sits out there on his porch all day from morning to night with his margaritas, one after the other, what does he know about boys today?
Those margaritas, they’re something, aren’t they? Ricky’s got this big old pitcher setting out on the porch rail where it gives off a soft green glow, kind of extraterrestrial, and it’s always full and got circles of lime from the bushes in his yard swimming around in it and he tops it all off with a pure white hibiscus, also from one of his bushes, and you’ve got to admit he’s got a work of art could be in LACMA. Anybody passes his house, he’ll wave them over and pour them one of those pretty margaritas if they’ll let him, and there are lots of folks who will. I stop by from time to time. It’s always a party.
Ricky got arrested last year for molesting some kid, a girl from my school. He says he didn’t know she was underage and I believe him. He was in jail for a while. He jokes about it. It sure didn’t put a damper on his party spirit, no matter how often his P.O. drops by. And it sure doesn’t keep him from poking his nose into everybody’s business, mine included. He can be a pain sometimes.
You know who’s a real pain? That old guy next door. He’s maybe eighty, real old, and he lives with his wife. Their roof sags something awful and my mom who’s usually pretty nice to everybody says she wishes it would just give it up and cave in on them, put everybody out of their misery.
Every morning about five o’clock, he’s up and it’s all over for the rest of us. He starts in cursing his wife in this low, gravelly old guy’s voice. What he says to her you wouldn’t believe at five in the morning and she gives it back as good as she gets. They don’t get emotional. It’s like they’re having a regular conversation except they say these nasty things. Boy, it’s certainly enriched my vocabulary. My mom gets up and slams down her window and comes in and slams mine real hard to send a message but they don’t get it. You can still hear them and then the room heats up with no air.
The other thing this guy does is every time he parks that big old Buick, he bangs into Jackson’s Rabbit and sets off the alarm. Jackson comes running out right away to shut it off, he’s pissed, but the old guy pays no attention, just keeps shuffling toward his house and Jackson gives him the evil eye but doesn’t curse like some would. This happens every day.
I smoke pot with Jackson sometimes. He’s always got good stuff. He says, don’t tell my girlfriend, she’ll say I’m corrupting a minor.
Sometimes T.J. smokes with us. T.J. lives on the alley behind Jackson. He plays paddle tennis for money and drives a Veedub and drinks beer. That’s about it. Just before trash day there’s a mountain of Bud cans you wouldn’t believe in the alley by his back door.
And next to him are the two girls. They get lots of traffic. My mom says stay away, but Ginny, she’s nice, real tall with long black hair, looks great in roller skates. But she’s always droopy, sometimes with bruises all over, and not from skating like she says. I know better. I wasn’t born yesterday.
That’s just about everybody that figures in this story I want to tell.
Saturday night late, me and the boys are hanging out on the wall in front and I see Ginny’s car pull up. It’s a Trans Am, midnight blue, used to be real flashy, but somebody bashed in the front right and whoever did the body work stopped before the finishing touches so it all scabbed over with rust. She gets out and she’s alone and all of a sudden this guy appears and says something to her.
Me and the boys—we’re across the street and down some—we go on alert. The guy makes a move with his hand we all sorta recognize. I see Ricky Phelan across the street step off his porch and onto the sidewalk for a better view. Ginny doesn’t say a word, doesn’t even look around, just slides in the back seat and we all stand there and watch the Trans Am do the bump and grind.
It’s just a little thing sets me off, but I see the flash of her hand through the rear window, seems to me like a little white flag. I grab Dolan’s bat right out of his hands and light out for the car but before I get there the door opens and this guy gets out fiddling with his pants. So just to let him know I’m there I swing that bat and smash it down on Ginny’s car. You may wonder what that accomplished but I figured, what the hell, the front needs work anyway and I got his attention, believe me. He swings around and I see he’s got a knife out and I think, what a wuss. Ginny’s curled into a corner of the back seat and looks like her cheeks are wet. Her legs are bare. I can’t see anything else.
By this time the boys are there and this guy steps back but his lip curls and he says real nasty, blow off boys, I have business here. We don’t say anything, just circle in and I can see a few more bats and Witkowski’s got that big switchblade he took off the Suarez kid last week and that guy just turns tail with the boys right behind. He knows what’s what.
Then Ginny pulls the door shut and we’re right in front of Jackson’s place, so he comes out with his girlfriend and pretty soon T.J.’s there and I can see the old guy watching from the window and then the door swings open slow and Ginny climbs out. She’s got her jeans on and there’s blood on her face from somewhere. She’s dazed. Nobody moves for a minute and finally Jackson’s girlfriend says, are you okay?
Ginny doesn’t say anything. The girlfriend says I’ll go call the police and turns around but Ginny motivates and grabs her arm and says no and the girlfriend stands real still like she’s dying to pull away but it wouldn’t be polite. And T.J. runs his fingers through his beard so it sticks straight out and says let’s go back and get a beer. That sets Ricky off. He’s standing there with a margarita in his hand and he holds it out like he wants her to have it but she looks right through him. Jackson’s girlfriend says again real soft let’s call the police and then she says it louder and Ricky starts to back away. He doesn’t want any of that action.
And all of a sudden this skinny black shows up and he takes charge. He says no cops, right Ginny? And she’s looking down, nodding.
It’s strange to see a black guy in this neighborhood. You hardly ever do. It’s pretty much our territory and we keep it white but he seems to know his way around. He takes her arm and leads her back to her place talking to her real nice so I think he’s okay and I let them go. T.J. goes with them and that’s pretty much the end of that but I have to go past Ricky’s on my way home and he’s sitting there with that pitcher and he raises his glass and says, nice work kid. I start to say thanks but he keeps going, says, you really screwed up this time kid. Can’t you keep that little pecker in your pants?
I don’t know what he’s talking about and before I think I take a peek at my crotch, but he sees. He laughs and says your momma should keep a better eye on you. This makes me mad. I say, why don’t you tell her. He says she don’t talk to me. I say you got nothing to say, that’s why. Then I go home.
Ginny, when she shows up again, she looks bad and she won’t talk to me for a while. Ricky puts the blame on me for what happened to Ginny. He should keep his mouth shut. I didn’t realize. He says, learn from my mistakes. Don’t think with your dick. I wish Ginny would let me say how sorry I am. You could say I learned that bit of business at her expense. Nobody likes to learn the hard way. That’s the moral of the story.
Anyway, back to that night. My boys come back and say they lost that guy in the alley and they’re still charged so we get some paint and spray V-13 in the street next to Ginny’s car, kind of like a tribute.
When we’re done we head back to my house and as we go Witkowski sticks his foot on the fender of Jackson’s Rabbit and gives it a shove so the alarm goes off. Behind us I hear Jackson and it must be the stress cuz you know he’s cool but he’s cursing like crazy. He thinks it’s the old guy again. We stop at my house and stand out front by the curb to watch but all that happens is the old guy starts slamming down his windows and after a while Jackson stops and closes his but the alarm keeps going. We all drift over to Ricky’s. He’s disappeared but that pitcher’s there and we pass it around. I keep thinking how I get to sleep in tomorrow what with all the old guy’s windows down and my mom’ll be happy too if only Jackson will shut off his alarm. Just in case, I give Witkowski a whack. Thanks for nothing I say and he ducks and says no problem.