Friday, March 23, 2012

Oscar's Story

I met Oscar a few months ago when Christmas lights broke up the monotony of the winter night and the bell ringers were out in force. One slushy morning he came through intake at the legal aid office where I work (whatever I tell you about Oscar is with his permission) because he couldn’t maneuver the torturous bureaucratic machinery required to get an ID card from the State of Colorado. Everything he owned (“not much when you think about it,” Oscar said) was stolen during a long night “of high drama" in a homeless shelter, and he couldn’t prove his identity. Without such proof, Oscar faced a very difficult, if not insurmountable, obstacle to obtaining health care, employment, or food stamps. He thought the lawyers at Colorado Legal Services could help, and he was right.

I didn’t represent Oscar but I met with him because the lawyer who did help him told me that the guy had a colorful history and, of special interest, he was a writer. For a few minutes Oscar and I talked about his life and his ambition to write. Eventually, in another meeting over early coffee, he showed me several pages of handwritten material that he said were portions of his “works in progress.”

Oscar is a vet with some serious health problems – mental and physical. He said he didn’t want to dwell on his situation in his writing; it’s obvious he’s not looking for pity, probably not even sympathy. He is more concerned with observing and reporting the “contradictions and convolutions of the human condition in general.” I took him at his word. His stories, poetry, and essays don’t say much about his specific troubles, but they do say a lot about people. Oscar can’t be pigeonholed as a writer. His stuff ranges from laconic humor to darkest noir to syrupy sentimental. I see Bukowski, Hemingway, and Fuentes in some of his work; other times it’s so off the wall that I get nervous reading it. I’ve decided to periodically share a few pages of Oscar’s work here on La Bloga, and Oscar is more than happy to see his name (a pseudonym) highlighted on the Internet. On the other hand, he may want people to read what he writes but he also is super protective, so he gives me only a small batch at a time. Somewhere, deep in his backpack, the manuscript for a novel waits to be read by someone other than Oscar.

“I know I’m paranoid,” he said. “Not much I can do about that but eventually I come around.”

I asked why not use his real name for his stories. “Not sure I know my real name.” He flexed his fingers to make quotation marks. “The name I go by, the one on my new I.D., can’t be dragged into this other business. Anyways, Oscar is my moniker of choice, it’s cool. Like the boxer, and the Chicano writer, or the jazz musician, and that grouchy puppet.” I cut him off – he could have gone on about other Oscars for hours.

A little of his history (note – this is Oscar’s story and I don’t have any way of vouching for its veracity. I expect that the basic facts are true and the embellishments are just that, added extras) -

Oscar grew up in a small New Mexican town (Dexter), raised by a woman he always called his abuelita, although he can’t swear that he’s related to her. Angelita took in several kids at various times, without any help from social services, other relatives, or the kids’ parents. How the children ended up at her house was sometimes a mystery, and sometimes expected. Didn’t matter because Angelita accepted them all. Different men stayed in the house, too, over the years that Oscar lived with her, but none of them lasted more than six months. According to Oscar, Angelita didn’t put up with any “macho bullshit.” Oscar never knew his parents but Angelita told him that his mother was “some kind of Indian” and his father was a drug smuggler back in the days when driving a trunk load of marijuana into the United States didn’t seem like such a big deal. Oscar got the impression that his father, Enrique, was a cousin or nephew of Angelita’s, but again that’s more guesswork on his part than anything solidly established. Oscar mentioned that his mother was named María Luisa, but the way he said it made me think that he came up with the name because he liked the way the two words flowed together.

Oscar finished high school and hit the road. “By the time I was eighteen I’d crashed in every major city between Albuquerque and San Francisco, by way of Tijuana and Los Angeles.” He worked in the fields, drove a fork lift in a warehouse, and tried roofing for a few weeks. Between hitchhiking odysseys and bus trip traumas he turned into an alcoholic. “I would have died like that Indian hero, Ira Hayes, in my vomit, passed out in an alley somewhere, except that I signed up for the Marines when I came of age, just like old Ira. Then I had bigger worries than wonderin’ where my next drink was comin’ from.” He did his time in Fallujah when that ill-fated city was the hottest spot on earth. “Fucked me up, man. But I made it out and back. A lot of guys didn’t. The Marines got no more use for me, but that’s all right. I did what I could and I stood my ground with my buddies.”

Since then, it’s been a hard, relentless journey for Oscar. He looks healthy, in a crusty, street-wandering way. I like to say he’s serene except for the occasional spontaneous profane outburst, and he looks good except for a slight scar over his left eyebrow (he wouldn’t tell me what that was about) and a pronounced limp in his left leg (“Iraq,” he said in explanation.) He sports the homeless beard and a faded army jacket, but he’s always clean when we meet. His memory can be tricky and more than once I’ve had to help him make his point or return to the subject at hand. He pops various prescriptions when he can score them, and I’ve never seen him without a bottle of water.

I asked him to describe himself. “I got a shine in my pants and creases in my shoes.” That was it for description.

If I loosen more out of him, I’ll be sure to pass it on to our readers.

Here’s Oscar’s debut on La Bloga – first, a short, short story…

Honesty is the Best Policy
By Oscar

I didn’t love her. I made that clear from the jump. For me it was all about the sex. For her too, when she was honest. That first night, after we left the bar and she asked me to walk her home, we clawed and bit at each other like hungry tigers. We liked it so much I stayed in her apartment for a week. We humped, bumped, and jumped in those three rooms without caring what we broke or where we landed. We ordered pizza or noodle bowls when our energy lagged. I lost my job, my room at the motel, and the junk I kept there, but we didn’t care. We were sexed up and high on lovemaking fumes.

The morning she told me not to come back I shrugged. “Yeah, sure, whatever.” It was all about the sex.

I punched the fence around the corner from her place and broke a finger. When the doc asked me what happened, I said, “Rough sex.”


Now here are the lyrics to a country song that Oscar’s been working on “for a decade or two.” (Oscar plays excellent guitar. He told me that his guitar is the one material object he would probably fight for “these days.” He accepted it in lieu of pay for a painting job he did for one of the volunteers at the shelter. He sang this song for me while he played, and I admit that his mournful styling wormed into my heart – his voice doesn’t have the greatest range but it’s perfect for country or the blues.)

Too Lonely

Well, it’s not that I’m greedy
I can make do with not much,
But my heart can be needy
Lookin’ for a soft touch.

Too much to ask for
Kindness or love
Too much to ask for
Some grace from above?

It’s not that I’m special
Not more than the next guy,
But late nights I’m wishful
And I’m too lonely to cry.

Too lonely to cry
Too lonely to cry
Too lonely to cry
Too lonely to cry.

Thanks, Oscar, for sharing.

That’s it for this week.

And remember, I’m a fiction writer. This has been a work of fiction.



Anonymous said...

Great stuff, Ramos--especially because I can't determine where the fiction begins, or ends.

Manuel Ramos said...

Now that's a great compliment. Thanks.

Unknown said...

Good short story-longer one even better. Looking forward to more.