I’m watering my lawn with the fountainhead, taking care to ensure it’s an even spray. I take pride in this thing – nurturing it back to Life from a dead winter. It is spring, after all, and a verdant yard is a sign of happiness. The water streams forth from my outstretched hand, like a modern-day Thor calling the rain. I sweep left and right and the grass glistens with each bounty; I’m a Life giver.
I look to my car – a battered ’97 Jeep Cherokee – and see the old warhorse at stable. She’s rusting in several spots, the paint is chipped and peeling just about e’erywhere, and the fender I lost in a near-death experience a few years ago has yet to be replaced. The zip tie I had used to mend the broken plastic has long since rotted away in the New Mexico sun.
My arms sweep the lawn, but my glance keeps returning to the Jeep.
I turn the engine over, fire up the wipers, and spray down the windshield. A flurry of water and bug guts comes crashing over either side, furiously wiping left and right to rid the stains.
“Mexican style,” I can hear Marco say.
We used to work together at the tire shop. A few years younger than I, he taught me how to use the machines without scratching a customer’s rim. He made me mount and dismount the same tire a hundredfold; I can do it with a pair of screwdrivers these days thanks to him. He showed me how to stack tires 10-high; an impressive feat for a skinny little white boy. He was a gordo, a big fuckin’ Mexican covered in tattoos, a cigarette always dangling from his lips, and a laugh that made the entire shop seem like a decent place to work. When I called him a wetback, he’d remind me my family was from Europe: he called me an oceanback.
Marco taught me how to ride a motorcycle (he drove mine home the first day because I didn’t have a license). We used to get high after work at his pad – a dumpy, little trailer with refuse and junk piled like a heap in the lawn. The front door didn’t lock, but, he assured me, “When my big ass comes out the door with my shotgun, ain’t no motherfuckers gon’ mess with me.” He was right – no one fucked with Marco.
He taught me some Spanish (how to ask a customer which tire was flat, basic pricing, and how to refer to a lady’s genitalia) and I taught him how to ask for marijuana in German. Basic translation stuff.
We used to hang out after work in the hot summers, kicking it at his pad or a coworker’s. We got high often. It’s where I met the town’s resident crack heads and methed-up loonies. They were always welcome at Marco’s – no one fucked with Marco.
His novia made tortillas. “Ese, she used milk! I ain’t ever seen no wetback use milk in their tortillas before, homes.” She wasn’t a wetback (by the strictest definition) and she’d go off on him in Spanish about how he was a wetback.
I’d sit there on his dog hair-encrusted sofas and politely chew tortillas.
I didn’t give a shit if she used milk or not, or whether she was wet or he was; those things were good.
“Hey guey,” I said trying on my new cholo slang, “when can we drink some beer and get fucked up?”
“Ah, pinche gringo,” he replied. “You fuckin’ Mennonites need to relax.”
One day we had a Mennonite come into the shop: blonde hair – blonder than mine – with piercing blue eyes. He wore the Mexican-style cockroach killer boots and a Stetson, driving a piece of shit hoopty that belonged in Marco’s yard. I approached him (white people were always my deal, the guys in the shop declared), but that guy took one look at me then started looking around for an important brown person.
He talked to Marco.
And Marco, God bless him, did indeed help the customer, but he let him know – in English and Spanish – that it’s rude to ignore someone because you assume they don’t comprende. We fixed his tire and sent him on his way.
“Man,” I said, “white people suck.”
“Chinga,” Marco said. “You do, guerro.”
We laughed and got high after work.
The water is still going and some of it is has splashed onto my fancy shirt from decades past.
I remember Gus from the time I was working at Dillard’s o’er in Fort Worth. I hated the gig – I can’t sell shit to people who don’t need it – but I was a poor college student and my folks raised me to labor without complaint. And Gus, that fuckin’ guy, he war a breath of fresh air.
I might’ve been 19 or 20 at the time, but Gus was in his mid-forties. He used to run a small tire shop, but the Great Recession saw him shutter the doors of his beloved business and force him to seek solace elsewhere. We became swift mates over mutual tire appreciation and general tomfoolery. That dude was a jokester.
He called my station one time – I worked the Daniel Cremieux fashion line (the Polo of Europe I was ordered to explain) – and put on a terrible French accent.
“Yes, zis is Daniel Cremieux; have you sold any of my shit?”
I lost a sale because I was too busy laughing to deal with a customer needing another cashmere sweater. Gus made that job worth it.
We worked on opposite sides of the store, but we routinely found ourselves shooting the shit at one another’s sections on slow days. And there were plenty of those in a global recession.
“Why the fuck are you working here,” he asked once.
I adjusted my suit top. “It’s a job,” I said.
“Yeah, and so is stripping.”
“Well,” I asked, “why aren’t you doing that?”
“Because I’m old and fat.”
He had a marvelous goatee, like something out of one of the Renaissance paintings held in the local art museum, that he kept very well-manicured. And with all his charm and good looks, he was quite the lady killer. Ah, to see him flirting with the girls as he helped them try on shoes they didn’t need to impress people they didn’t like; he could sell ice to Eskimos.
“I hate this fucking place,” he said.
“There’s no soul – we’re selling useless shit to people who don’t need more shit.”
He was right; I shared the same sentiment. Retail was a nightmare – with all the quotas and double-dealings and ringing in sales and the constant organizing and the bitchy customers and the self-entitled pricks who served as our customer base. It was not a good job for someone as charismatic and affable as Gus. He wanted to be his own boss again, to return the carpet that had been rudely ripped from him.
I just wanted to be like Gus: confident, funny, charismatic, and attentive.
I turn the hose off, gently lay it in the grass, and watch the amber sun beginning its descent into the cooler spring night.
We got along well with Mark. Whereas Gus was the older chap whom everyone could rely on for a laugh and a farce, Mark was that guy every little boy dreams of becoming: smart, sexy, a total badass, and always with a new bombshell on his arm.
Mark was like a younger version of Gus: a smart goatee, a sly smirk, and hair that begged to be pulled in the heat of rapture. The two got along famously; I likened myself to their young protégé.
Mark was older than me by about 6-7 years – mid-twenties and already sleeping with the branch manager (different department, he said, so no foul in the ethics committee). He’d laud us boys with tales of his conquests, of his solitary motorcycle chases that inevitably ended up with him in jail, and how he was a man’s man. No bullshit, the guy was real to the core.
Despite coming off as a braggadocios asshat the first time you meet him, you quickly learn he’s on your side. More than once he stuck up for me when my numbers were down. “He’s learning, boss man. Cut the kid some slack.” His charm – that wit – couldn’t be resisted. It was always a good time to be caught between Mark and Gus; you’d laugh and forget you worked a shitty retail job.
The hose ceases to hum as the water flow is finally cut off. The last drops drain into the now soaked grass; I can retire for the evening. The sun continues to descend, inch by inch, upon the endless New Mexico horizon. Gray begins to move in from the east as the vibrancy of the west gives ground.
Laugh and forget, just like how Beck used to say.
“Fuck you, man,” I can hear him say through his pudgy face. “You’re just a fucking communist.” We laughed because we didn’t know what communism was in high school and profanity is always encouraged amongst teenage peers. He’d shake a meaty fist in my face and threaten me with violence.
We went to high school together, that blessed alma mater, wherein we became swift friends. Like a modern-day Friar Tuck, Beck was loud, big, and jovial. When we did sneak liquor onto campus, he always had to have a little more – bigger boy. And, like Friar Tuck, he wasn’t without his wisdom here and there. But mostly he made us laugh. Everything is funny at that age.
As high school teenage boys are wont to do, insults often started with one’s lineage and maternal figures. How horrible we were to one another’s mothers in private, but how polite and respectful to their faces. Claiming your classmate’s mother gave you fellatio is a hell of a bullshit lie, no matter what modern porn tries to convince you. But that is how we talked – and still talk to this day.
But, Beck, kindly giant that he was, had his gaffe moments.
“Fuck you, midget,” he said. True, compared to him, I was quite dwarfish.
“Fuck you, fatass,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said, making the universal sign for jerking off someone’s erection. “That’s what your mom did to me.” He grinned.
“Fuck you, fatass,” I repeated. “She couldn’t find your wormy dick under your jelly rolls.”
That always got him – the fat jokes.
He was angry now, his face turning as red as the setting sun, and he tripped over his words in his rage.
“Yeah,” he sputtered. “Your mom.” He pointed at me. “Her balls. My mouth.” He pointed at himself.
There was silence amongst the lads as we tried to process – and confirm – what he had just said.
It was shattered by raucous laughter.
“Wait, dude, you suck balls?”
He grew redder.
“With your mouth?”
More laughter – he had fucked up and we let him have it.
“Fuck you! And fuck you guys!” He stormed out of the room, slamming the wooden door behind him.
That fuckin’ guy.
The sun is now set; the grass will live another day, absorbing the water so carefully given. Nourishment, like a god from above, given to the thirsty denizens of the world. An apt metaphor.
But my friends of yesteryear won’t see this lawn.
Marco and Mark were killed in motorcycle accidents.
Gus and Beck took their own lives.
Little things, like splashing water on a windshield or watching the sunset, remind me that these gentlemen aren’t here with me any longer in the physical sense, but, despite the years and the inevitable turning of time, they remain immortal within me.
It takes Death to do that.