Monday, October 26, 2009

Pepper Spray

A short story by Estella González

I see ya baby, Felipe thought as he sorted out his share of the mail. From behind the giant U.S. Mail bins, he watched Angelina standing in line with some tall white guy, kissing his face, stroking his hair like he was some kind of pet dog. Angelina walked out the door to a little green Miata with white leather seats.

Sitting there like you’re ready to take off into that So Cal sunset, he thought as he watched her through the slit of glass and metal that was supposed to be a “window.”

Who does she think she is? Just because she’s going to UCLA now. Angie’s as dumb as a stick but smart enough to get her new boyfriend to buy her that sweet little car shaking its own little round ass when it takes off out of the parking lot. Probably the gabacho’s car.

Felipe finished sorting, lifted the mail bag strap over his shoulder. It was barely nine and already his shoulder muscles hurt like he’d been carrying the mail bag for three hours.

Yeah, yeah she’s got those Guess jeans going on making her Mexican ass look all heart-shaped and bouncy.

“Hey Felipe. Quit looking out that window,” Patrice yelled.

Shit. Nothing here but a bunch of ugly women, Felipe thought. Better get his ass out to the old neighborhood anyway. Here came Patrice with her new wig trying to look like Jody Watley. Ya ni la hace. She looked more like Bob Marley with her little fuzzy moustache. Jesus Christ. He had to find a better job. Soon as Felipe got his Associates degree he’d be lookin’.

“Hey Felipe, wanna go out to happy hour with us afterwards?” Patrice said.

“Can’t,” he said. “Gotta finish some work for class.”

“You too old to be going to college.”

“Don’t even talk old woman. You must be 50 at least.”

I know you’re only 30 bitch, but don’t start in on me, he thought. He got enough of this shit from Mom with her “When you gonna get married? Am I ever gonna see my grandkids before I die? What was the point of having you and Carlos?”

Thank God his mother was asleep when Felipe got home. Poor Chuck. He was the one who heard it when she was awake. Maybe he should get in on that lottery pool these postal losers set up. Damn, he thought as he started the mail truck. He should’ve gone back to school sooner.


Was that catfish he smelled? Goddamn! Mom didn’t cook catfish. Must’ve been Chondra. Was she here? Probably in Chuck’s room fucking his fool head off. Not bad for mayate food. Better than Mom’s cold refried beans and stale tortillas. No beer, no tequila, just the same ol’ orange Kool-Aid in that yellow Tupperware thing Mom’s had since he didn’t know when.

“Con una jodida! Turn off that light!” Mom yelled.

“I’m gonna watch a little TV Mom.”

“It’s 12:30.”

“I know.”

“Don’t you have to go to work tomorrow?”

Felipe popped in the latest episode of “Robotech” and lay on the couch imagining what the lead female character would look like in real life. Before he could imagine how big her tits would be, he heard his brother’s door open. Chondra walked into the living room in her raggedy old underwear. She could put a shirt on at least.

“Hey Chon.”


She sat on the couch across from him. What did she want? Was she gonna try something? Maybe he would take her up on it.

“How was work?” she asked.

“Same ol’ shit,” Felipe said.

“Ya like the fish?”

“Pretty good.”

“Angelina called.”

“Yeah? What’d she say?”

“Getting married.”

No way, Felipe thought. He just broke up with that mocosa six months ago. Who’d she find to marry?

“She wants you to go. Ya goin’?”

Bet she does so she can rub it in my face, Felipe thought. So what? She was only a kid. That’s all she ever wanted, some guy to take care of her. And she was always trying to talk with some English accent, like she was Madonna or something. Her mom made some good birria though.

“I said are you goin’?” Chondra asked.

“You don’t have to be so loud. Where’s Carlos?”

“Asleep. He said you’d go.”


“’Cause she’s marrying some white guy you both knew in school, Steve something.”
So she was marrying that guy. Well, fuck her then.



“Hey Tony. Here’s your bills.”

“Aww dude. How about some good mail?”

“How about this Victoria’s Secret catalog?”

“Now you’re talking,” Tony said as he shoved the magazine into his pants.

“Just says ‘resident’ but I think it’s your neighbor’s.”

“She’s a babe. Speaking of babes, I heard your ex is getting married.”

How did this mofo find out about Angelina? Chingado! This neigborhood’s too small.

“She’s hooking up with Steve Bitchett,” Felipe said.

“Bitchett? Aw, you mean Pritchett. The guy who used to wear high waters?”

“Imaginate! Who would’ve thought she liked that geekazoid.”

“She liked you,” Tony said.

Low blow. True, Felipe was into “Robotech” and “Star Wars.” And yeah, he went dressed up (but only once!) like a Jedi Knight to L.A. Con and sure, he stayed up all night watching the “Star Wars” trilogy but he wasn’t one of those Trekkie weirdos. And he wasn’t into Rubick’s Cube or chess like this Steve guy. Let her marry the gabacho cabrón.

“If you go, I’ll see you there,” Tony said.

“You goin’?”

Felipe’s bag almost fell off his shoulder.

“Adela’s known her since high school so, you know, I gotta go,” Tony said.

Felipe nodded and started walking toward his mail truck.

“Are the other guys going?” he asked.

“Only Mario,” Tony said adjusting the magazine. “He’s the best man.”

So even the best quarterback that played for Garfield High School was going. After leaving Tony’s house, Felipe drove to the next stop on his route, Han’s Liquor Store. “Han Solo” Felipe used to call him until Han got his mail order bride from Korea. She looked just like a doll. One time Felipe made a play for her but she pushed him away, real strong. “Nooooo!” she yelled.

And then came Han, with his broomstick like he was a witch. Felipe backed out of the tiny store and swore to himself he’d never bother her again. But that cute little China doll never came out of her doll house in Monterey Park and worked Han’s store again. For a while, Felipe thought she’d gone back to Korea or died. Turned out she had a baby.

One time, while he was doing his route, Felipe saw her pushing this baby carriage. He almost caught up with her but she saw him and took off across Atlantic Boulevard. Didn’t even wait for the light to turn green. But good ol’ Han got over it. This was during the riots, after that Rodney King mess. They were mainly happening in South Central but a little bola de pinche mocosos tried to start something up in Felipe’s neighborhood.

“Go away!” Han yelled at them, holding up that stupid broom. “Call police!”
Felipe could see the broom shaking and the sweat shining on Han’s forehead. And those chamacos started walking up to him. One guy, El Sleepy, started doing a little duck walk, stretching his eyes.

“Ching, chong chink,” he sang as he walked like a penguin. “Ching, chong, chink.”

When Han was about to swing that broom, Felipe walked up in front of the boys.

“Get the fuck outta here mailman,” El Sleepy said.

Then Felipe pulled out his regulation pepper spray. Cobra and Jelly Beans stepped back.

“Orale chamacos,” he said. “Step off or you’ll be crying like babies in a couple of seconds.”

When Felipe saw Cobra reach into his pants, he let them have it. Jelly Beans took off but Cobra and El Sleepy just screamed and cried. Then Han started beating them with his broom. He wouldn’t stop even though Felipe tried to grab the broom. As soon as the cops came, Felipe pulled the broom out of Han’s hands. Instead of hauling those punks away, the cops called the paramedics to clean those guys up. Felipe couldn’t believe that shit. Then the cop started grilling him about why he used the pepper spray.

“Self defense man,” Felipe said.

“How about the chino beating those kids up with a broom?”

“They’re lying.”

The cops finally took Cobra and El Sleepy away. Han went inside the store and turned off the lights. When Felipe heard his car coming out of the drive way, he thought for sure Han would stop to shake his hand. But naah, Han just took off. Drove back to his pretty China doll wife in Monterey Park. But after that, anytime Felipe dropped off Han’s mail, Han gave him free Cokes and let him sit under the air conditioning during the summers. As Felipe handed him some letters, Han showed him the rifle he kept under the counter.

“No more broom?” Felipe asked.

“Fuck broom,” he said. “Nobody mess with me now.”

“Just don’t shoot me, okay?” Felipe picked up his bag and started walking back to his truck.

“Felipe!” Han yelled.


“Have a drink sometime.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Felipe said. “Sometime.”

“Maybe tomorrow?”

“I have a wedding tomorrow.”

Then he said something in Korean.


“Congratulations,” Han said.


Sitting in one of the booths in the back of the Silver Dollar bar, Felipe snuggled up to Mauve, trying to see if he could get worked up over her like he used to with other girls. He hadn’t been laid in seven months and jacking off didn’t cut it anymore. So, did he want to take this girl to Angelina’s wedding? Mauve had nothing on her. Bad skin. Fat ass. She had nice hair though.

After a couple of beers, Mauve was getting friendly. But when she put her hand on his knee, Felipe jumped up and went to the bathroom. He splashed cold water on his face.

“Goddamn she’s ugly,” he whispered. Not enough beer in the world to make this girl sexy. Felipe thought of Han’s wife, with her small feet and clear, glowing skin. Maybe it was time for him to get a mail-order bride for himself. He remembered some guy had paid $5,000 for a Russian girl who looked like a model. Real old guy too, with no hair and green slimy teeth. Felipe looked at his hair. Not bad. It was graying out but at least he wasn’t pelón. And his skin. Blaagh. What did Mom call him? Cara de naranja. He saw a tomato stain on his white shirt. He’d love to have Mom wash it but she’d let him have it about being a slob and how no woman was ever gonna want him.

“Go to the pueblo,” she kept saying. “You’ll find someone decent who’ll love you for taking care of her.”

Felipe didn’t want to end up like Don Emilio, that old guy on his route, living alone in a stinky house with no grandkids. Tony’s house smelled too, but at least it smelled like kids and a wife, not dogs and sweat. Plus Tony’s house was nice with furniture made of glass and wood that his wife picked out and kept shiny. Did Felipe really want to pay for a wife? Maybe one of those video dating services or the personals would help.

“Maybe you’ll meet somebody nice at Angelina’s wedding,” Mom said.

“I already met somebody nice.”

“You mean pizza face? Ay que fea.”

Like his mother was Michelle Pfeiffer or something.

“How did you meet Dad?” Felipe asked.

“Through your Tía Ofelia. She introduced him to me at your cousin’s baptism.”

“I don’t go to baptisms.”

“Maybe you should.”

Felipe thought about asking his sister Berta for advice but she was good friends with Angelina and he didn’t need both of them knowing that he was alone and desperate. When he got back to the booth there were two Jack and Cokes sitting in front of Mauve.

“Thought you might want another round.” She smiled then giggled.

Felipe sat near the edge of his seat. From the corner of his eye, he looked at her boobs practically falling out of the low-cut tank top.

“I’m a little tired today.”

“All that walking, huh?”

“You know how it is for us mailmen.”

He sipped his drink and got up. Mauve slowly drank hers until Felipe sat down again, his leg on the outer edge of the booth. Mauve slid over to him, grabbed his face with both hands and tried to kiss him. Felipe stood up and wiped his mouth.

“C’mon. I’ll take you home.”


Two fucking hours. Who has a wedding for two fucking hours? But Felipe should’ve known. Before they broke up, Angelina was always talking about her “dream” wedding, like she was Barbie or something, telling him how she wanted to “do it right:” Big Catholic church, 10 bridesmaids, 10 groomsmen, priest, altar boys--the works! She got the ideas from those magazines. Hijole! When she first showed him that Bride magazine, he couldn’t believe it. They actually sold those things with picture after picture of some chick looking drugged out in her big white dress.

“No way,” Felipe told her. “No way am I paying for all that.”

“But my parents can’t afford this.” She pointed to this dress by some chink named Vera Wang.

“Tough shit,” he said. “I’m a mailman, not Donald Trump.”

“But you can take a loan out.” And she said that with a straight face.

“You take a loan out.”

It was pretty much over after that. Angelina didn’t wanna date this poor Mexican slob of a mailman. So now she was hooking up with Steve, one of five white guys in his high school who was a total geek. Felipe guessed Steve got some kind of a real job after UCLA.

And when the priest asked if anybody had any reason why these two dopes shouldn’t be “joined,” nobody said a damn thing. Nobody thought there was a problem. But Felipe did. Hell yeah he did. But what was he gonna do? This wasn’t “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and he wasn’t Hugh Grant that’s for sure. Felipe gripped his little can of regulation pepper spray in the pocket of his gray slacks. It felt warm and friendly. How many times had it saved his ass?

When Steve raised the veil from Angelina’s face, Felipe took a deep breath. She still looked 17, all fresh and pretty. He couldn’t stand to look at Mauve, who was leaning in so close he could smell her sweat brewing with her perfume.

“I love her dress,” Mauve whispered.

Before the priest ended the ceremony, he pointed to the blank wall above the giant portrait of the Virgen de Guadalupe.

“The bride and groom would like to share with you through pictures the reasons they fell in love.”

Journey’s “Faithfully” whined through the speakers while on the wall, slides of Steve and Angelina as kids popped up. When they flashed a picture of Angelina in her prom dress, Felipe’s heart busted. He asked her to that prom but she’d turned him down. So he went “stag” with his Tony and Mario and watched her dance with some kid from another high school. “Rhythm of the Night” was the theme and the DJ kept playing that song by DeBarge every five minutes. For years after the prom, whenever he heard that song, he flipped the radio station.

The next slide nearly killed Felipe. It was the picture of Angelina at Huntington Beach. He could tell part of it had been cut off and knew why. It used to be him sitting there next to her, throwing his head back laughing. She was smiling up at camera guy. By the time the next picture came up, Felipe was crying.

“I always cry at weddings too,” Mauve said leaning her head on his shoulder, wrapping her arm around his.

Was it the slides or Mauve with her pizza skin face leaning on him? Or maybe it was Han’s China doll and her baby? Whatever it was, it was enough to make Felipe break out his pepper spray for the second time in a month and spray the bride and groom as they walked down the aisle. And then it was like Han with his broom. Felipe just kept spraying even while the best man and a groomsman tried to push him down into the red carpet. Some of the spray got into his eyes. But he kept pressing on the button until he heard the little “ssst” of he empty can.

Around him, women screamed, men yelled, little kids ran up and down the aisle and from all this mess came the cops. This time, instead of dragging off punks like Cobra and El Sleepy, they cuffed and dragged him screaming out of the church. The cops threw Felipe on the sidewalk where they waited for the paramedics to wash his eyes out.

“Why’d you do this? Who are you? Where’d you’d get the pepper spray?” they yelled at him.

Felipe twisted around like slug sprinkled with salt while the sidewalk burned through his clothes. As he lay face up on the sidewalk, Felipe heard Angelina whimpering and Steve cursing. For a second, he thought he heard Mauve laughing. Sirens down the street got louder and louder. And for the first time since that day at the beach with Angelina, Felipe smiled into the sun beating on his face.

[Estella González was born and raised in East Los Angeles, which inspires most of her writing. Her work has been anthologized in Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature published by Bilingual Press, and Kaleidoscope published by Pima Press. Her writing has also appeared in literary magazines Puerto del Sol, Sandscript and Eleven Eleven. She is working on her first novel. “Pepper Spray” first appeared in Sandscript.]

◙ I received a nice note from the poet, Francisco Aragón, editor of The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry (University of Arizona Press, 2007). The poetry anthology gathers, for the first time, works by emerging Latino and Latina poets in the twenty-first century. Francisco told me that his “two-year trek” touring with the anthology will be winding down in a couple of weeks in New York City at Poet's House's new home in Battery Park. He'll be having a panel discussion on Thursday, October 29, at 6:30 p.m. with several contributors to the anthology (Brenda Cardenas, Gina Franco, Urayoán Noel and Rich Villar) which Francisco moderate. Then, at 8:00 p.m., they will be having a reading featuring Brenda, Gina, David Dominguez, and Scott Inguito. You may visit Poet's House website for more information. The event is co-sponsored by Letras Latinas, the Guild Complex and the ACENTOS Foundation, with support by the National Endowment for the Arts. Congratulations to Francisco and all of the contributors to this groundbreaking anthology!

Rigoberto González, an award-winning writer living in New York City, interviews the poet, Paul Martínez Pompa, over at on Critical Mass. Martínez Pompa is the author of Pepper Spray, a chapbook published by Momotombo Press in 2006. My Kill Adore Him, his first full-length collection, was selected for the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize in 2008.

◙ Check out the latest on

Latinos in America, CNN and Refocusing the Immigration Issue

Latinos for Peace on Facebook

Health Net Launches Salud Medicare

TOP Ten Ways Gringos Celebrate Day of the Dead

The UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center (CSRC) cordially invites you to a presentation by Chicana/o Studies Professor Robert Chao Romero on"Corridos, Huapangos, and Mambo Cha-Cha-Cha.” Professor Romero will present a diverse line-up of songs from the CSRC's online archive of the Arhoolie Foundation's Frontera Collection. The professor will explore songs from the Corrido, Afro-Cuban, and Mambo Cha-Cha-Cha genres, amongst others. The Arhoolie Frontera Collection is an online digital archive of Mexican and Mexican-American recordings that was launched by the CSRC last March.

DAY: Wednesday, October 28

TIME: 12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.

PLACE: CSRC Library (144 Haines Hall)

COST: Free Admission

◙ That’s all for now. I still hope to post some photos of the Latino Book & Family Festival but I’ve been buried with my day job, getting ready for the book launch of my new short story collection, putting final edits into my novel, etc. So, in the meantime, enjoy the intervening posts from mis compadres y comadres here on La Bloga. And remember: ¡Lea un libro!

1 comment:

msedano said...

a delightful monday column, dan! pepper spray motif lightly tripping across the melody there, que no, with Estela's sad Felipe, and Paul Martínez Pompa's chapbook.