Saturday, April 28, 2018

Nightime Basketball in the Barrio by AntonioSolisGomez

Broadway Streetcar in Lincoln Heights in the 50's (similar one ran on Main Street)

Our family rented homes in Lincoln Heights through all of the 1950’s. One of those homes was on Workman Ave near the corner of Main Street where Files Garage was located. In and around Files’s, Jack and his buddy Johnny, a couple of winos hung out, it being next door to Dan’s liquor store where they were able to buy 25 cents bottles of Tokay wine. They both were a marvel to see but more so Jack who was able to lean back seemingly in defiance of the laws of gravity and anyone seeing him would think that he was about to topple backwards but at the critical moment he would right himself and begin the drama again a little later. 
My Stepfather Jesus Parral and my sister Maria circa 1956

When my grandmother joined us in Los Angeles, she having stayed in El Paso, when my stepfather moved us to Los Angeles, unbeknownst to us she had hooked up with my nina Concha’s brother, Moises, who we soon learned was also a wino. Moi, as he was known to his friends, was a super mechanic and File lost no time in exploiting his talents and paying him in 25 cent bottles of Tokay. The three of them Jack, Johnny and Moi became a fixture in the area but especially at Files garage.

Our home was a small one bedroom rear bungalow at the end of the driveway of the home of the Quevedos, mother, dad and three children Bobby, Freddie and Jimmy. I was 12, about Bobby’s age, but far behind him in his flights of imagination involving fornication with girls that he liked to tell me. And which I enjoyed hearing, thinking at the time that they were real experiences.

 Current photo of our former house on Workman Street. On the right the Quevedo's home

That first summer Dan, who belonged to one of the local merchants club, asked if I wanted to go to a summer camp and I not knowing what a summer camp was, said yes. A week later I was on a bus with other underprivileged Black and Chicano boys headed for Ernie Pyle Camp in the California Redwoods. I had never been away from home and I was miserable with homesickness for most of the two weeks. Was I glad to return home! The summer went quickly and soon classed started as did football season.

Next door to Dan’s Liquor store was a tortilleria run by a middle aged Mexican couple who were the parents of Louie, a twenty something over weight son with a baby face that matched his immaturity. He didn’t seem to have any friends his own age and he would often be playing football with us at the Safeway Parking lot across from Files Garage. He continually raided the cash register of his parents, using the money for nice shoes, clothing, and to buy tickets for the Rams football games, and he would invite one of neighborhood boys that lived nearby, including my brother Ruly or me. It was the first time any of us had been to see the Rams and we all looked forward to take our turn.

My stepfather Jesus, a World War II veteran, was a carpenter and sort of knew his way around construction.  In the Spring he rented the single family three bedroom house next door to where we were living, tripling our living space. It also came with a huge backyard and my older brother Ruly and I proposed to him that we make a basketball court. He surprised us by saying yes. Ordinarily he was not a person that went out of his way to accommodate us in any fashion, it being the era when adults and children were separated by a marked division of interests and activities. More surprising was that the dirt yard was very uneven with several low spots and in the middle a mound of dirt four foot tall and leveling the yard would require a great expenditure of physical effort. I say he surprised us because he was an individual that preferred to let us do the work whenever possible, whether it was going to the store to buy him a pack of cigarettes, getting him a tool from his tool box, or a beer from the frig etc. We were always his grunts and goffers and in this endeavor he would have to get out con pico y pala, right alongside Ruly and me.

 My brother Ruly holding our basketball, my nina Concha and I, in front of the Workman Street house.

We labored daily for over a month that spring, my stepfather working after work in the evenings and on weekends and Ruly and I doing what we could when he wasn’t around. We all used the shovel and we all took turns loading and carting the wheelbarrow. It was backbreaking work but everyday showed progress and one day the mound of dirt had disappeared. My stepfather then beginning using his carpentry skills, putting stakes here and there, stretching string from one to the other, using a level to determine low or high spots and we helping him to fill in or take off as needed. Finally it was done, a court that measured about 60 by 20 feet, level and packed down and at either end a ten foot tall 8”x 8” timber imbedded in the dirt, with a metal basketball hoop at the top.

Ruly and I began shooting hoops the next day and two neighbor boys David and Frankie joined us. Our backyard was higher than their home and separated by a retaining wall that they had to climb to reach our basketball court. Their home was at the rear of a couple of two story quadplexes, each having four dwellings and whose front doors faced Main Street. The Quevedo boys from next door, Bobby and Freddie, also joined us. When my stepfather came from work he joined in too. We were playing a version of Horse, not really having enough players for an actual game until other neighbor men from the quadplexes, getting home from work, came over and asked to play. Soon we did have ten players and the game started until the sun began casting a closing shadow and we could no longer see the ball.

The summer wore on, with immediate neighbors coming over for a game as well as passerby’s that could see us playing from the street. One of our regular players was Louie from the tortilleria. Another regular player was Mercedes, a man who had a vintage two hand set shot that he learned when he played a little college ball in New Mexico. Yet another player who saw us playing while on a walk was an Anglo medical student at the Osteopath Medical School on Mission Road, that I see in retrospect, was an arrogant young man who was convinced that he spoke better Spanish than we did.

It was a popular spot all summer, so much so that my stepfather had to wire two light bulbs above the rims in order to have some night basketball.

1 comment:

Jose said...

Beautiful prose and story hermano...