Friday, May 18, 2018

Midnight Blue Lowrider A Young Adult Short Story Part I by AntonioSolisGomez

Once upon a time, many years ago, but not so many as to be forgotten, an old 1967 Chevy was slowly rusting away at Tony’s Jalisco Auto Parts. No longer shiny and cute, the car was parked in the farthest corner of the oily dirt yard, hidden from view by stacks of tire rims, radiators, car seats and front bumpers. Still, a person could see that the car was a classic, its long sleek lines starting at the heavy chrome grill and going all the way back to the giant red taillights. Cheyito had been passing by the junkyard everyday since he was in grammar school, peeking at the car that he hoped one day would be his.

Old Tony the owner of Tony’s Jalisco Auto Parts was well acquainted with Cheyito’s ambition and for years had been telling Cheyito the same thing. “No the car’s not for sale. I’m saving that car for myself.” Secretly Cheyito was pleased that the car was not for sale as it meant that the car would still be around by the time he was old enough to drive.

When Cheyito turned thirteen he pestered old Tony to let him work in the junkyard doing some of the lighter work of dismantling cars. Tony gave in to his persistence and put him to work sorting and arranging hubcaps, side view mirrors, door handles, front headlights, chrome trim and dozens of other items that car owners needed to replace on their cars and trucks. It was Cheyito’s job to arrange those small parts by car make, model and year so that a customer’s request could easily be located.

Cheyito began saving most of the money from his weekly pay, keeping just a little for himself and giving some to his mother. By the time he was entering the ninth grade Cheyito was old Tony’s most valuable worker. He knew where every piece of a car was stored or hidden, among the thousands of car parts that filled every bit of empty space. A person walking through the junkyard had to squeeze by stacks of engines, hoods, axles and transmissions, doors, front windshields, and entire chassis. Some of the parts were piled so high that it felt like being inside a canyon of car parts.

Cheyito felt right at home amongst the grease and grim. He looked forward to passing through the sliding fence gate and stepping on the oil imbedded dirt that even rainwater could not penetrate. He loved the work of striping down a car, unscrewing doors, popping windshields, taking off tires, and sticking his whole upper body inside the hood to get at a car’s engine. But most of all he liked looking at the 67 Chevy, tucked away in the corner and piled with so many parts of other cars that it was no longer visible. Cheyito kept it that way. He didn’t want any of the customers spotting the classic car and making old Tony an offer that he couldn’t refuse.

Old Tony was a short round man with a bushy mustache that had turned snow white. Whenever he had something serious to think about he would stand against the side of the corrugated metal enclosure that was his office, his thumbs stuck inside the wide straps of his blue overalls, staring at the sky. He would stand that way for long periods, his muscular Rottweiler not letting anyone disturb him. Cheyito found him that way when he arrived after school one day and knowing that Tony was in a pensive mood simple said hi and passed him on the way to the back room where he slipped into his own work overalls.

When Cheyito came out of the dressing room, Old Tony said
“Cheyito I need to talk with you,”

“Sure, what’s up,” Cheyito said.

“I’ve sold the car.”

It only took Cheyito a moment to realize that Old Tony was talking about his car, the 1967 Chevy he had dreamed of owning since grade school.

“What do you mean you sold the car,” Cheyito said with a high pitched voice that Old Tony didn’t recognize, making him cringe in embarrassment.

“Well I didn’t exactly sell it. I lost it in the card game last night.”

You what? You lost my car? No way Tony!” Cheyito shouted.

Cheyito looked pleadingly at the old man who was still against the wall but no longer staring. He had a look of sadness on his face that told Cheyito that he was serious. Cheyito ran to the back of the yard and there where the car used to be he saw an empty space and his heart sank into his stomach. Cheyito was angry and sad. He knew that Old Tony had a gambling problem. If he wasn’t losing money at cards he was losing it at the horse races or at the fights. Sometimes he won and won big. But mostly he lost and although the junk business made him plenty of money the gambling losses barley allowed him to pay the bills.

Old Tony found Cheyito sitting on the ground in front of the empty spot.

“I’m sorry Cheyito,” he said. I was sure that I had an unbeatable hand last night when I bet the car. I wouldn’t have bet it otherwise. You know that? Don’t you?”
“Yeah I know that,” Cheyito answered. “You mind if I go home early Tony? I don’t feel like working today,” Cheyito said.
“No of course not. Take the whole week off if you feel like it,” Tony answered.
“Who won it? Cheyito asked as he was leaving.
“Taki”, Tony answered.
“Taki from the restaurant?” Cheyito asked in surprise. “What’s he want with a lowrider.”
“Says he’s sending it back to Japan where they have gone crazy over lowrider cars. Apparently they bring in top dollar.”

Cheyito shook his head in disgust when he heard that Taki was sending the car to Japan. He left Tony’s and leisurely walked home, kicking paper cups and food wrappings that had been thrown on the sidewalk. He walked along the industrial area, passing by more junkyards and other business. There was one business that specialized in glass windshields and rear windows, another that delivered concrete, a factory that made mattresses, and a storage yard for large machinery. He turned on Daily Street and the industrial area was now interspersed with occasional apartment houses and single family homes with small front yards filled with flowers and medicinal plants that old Mexican women tended. The homes were old and worn, in need of paint, their fences falling and their roofs patched with different colored asphalt singles. At one time there were no factories or warehouse or trucking yards, only homes. The remaining homes belonged to people that hadn’t sold when the zoning was changed to allow an industrial area to develop. The city was waiting until the owners died then the homes would be razed and replaced by a factory or by an asphalt yard.

With every block that Cheyito walked and every turn that he took, there were less and less factories and more homes, many of them also old but better maintained, colorfully painted in bright colors with well kept yards. This was Cheyito’s neighborhood and when he arrived at the small one bedroom bungalow that he and his mother rented, he went into the small section of the living room that had been partitioned with a heavy curtain as a bedroom for him. He took off his shoes and jumped onto his small bed. On the two walls he had placed pages from Lowrider Magazine showing the cars and trucks that were his current favorites. In his mind he had seen a picture of his 1967 Chevy on the wall, painted midnight blue with white tuck and roll upholstery and spinning chrome rims. Now he realized that it would never be. He flung the current copy of the magazine off his bed and turned over and tried falling asleep.

He was angry and he had thoughts about getting revenge on Old Tony by mixing up car parts so that nobody could find anything when they went looking in the places they should be. Or perhaps by steering customers away, telling them that only Panchos across the street had what they needed. But after spending time contemplating those negative thoughts he realized that he could never take revenge on him. Old Tony had been good to him all these years and he knew he had to find it in his heart to forgive him.
Still he knew he had to devise a new plan to get himself a car. He had saved money, maybe not enough to get something that was in running condition but he had learned quite a bit by taking cars apart. It shouldn’t be much different to put one together, he thought. There were plenty of good frames at the junk yard, and rims like he wanted. The big expenses would be the paint job and the upholstery. And of course the hydraulic system. Can’t have a lowrider that doesn’t hop, he thought.
He was getting excited, lying there in his bed daydreaming and developing his plan. Just maybe he thought I could finish the car during summer and in time for the start of my sophomore year in September. He was a Virgo and his sixteenth birthday was in late August, the age that he could get his driver’s license. He saw himself driving into the school’s parking lot and doing a few hops just to show off and then racing the motor a bit before shutting it down. Of course Natalie would be there looking and admiring maybe even coming over to say hello. He had a crush on her but she already had a boyfriend, a senior, named Carlos. Why didn’t seniors stick to their own classmates, he thought? There were plenty of girls in the senior class without boyfriends. Why couldn’t he have taken one of them? Natalie’s boyfriend did have the best ride in the whole school. And everybody knew that girls go for the dudes with the cars. He and all his friends thought Natalie became Carlos’ girlfriend because of his car, a red Pontiac that had been chopped and lowered. That’s why Cheyito now wanted a car so badly and why Old Tony losing the car he wanted had angered him so much.

The next day he was full of enthusiasm and went straight to Tony’s office when he arrived at work.

“I want to build a car Tony. Can I buy that 1950 Buick that came in last week?
“You can have it for nothing Cheyito. And I’ll help you get it running,” Old Tony said.
“You will,” Cheyito answered, surprised at Old Tony’s offer to help him as he didn’t much like working on cars anymore. Not since that engine block had fallen and crushed his foot.
“Sure. We’ll bring the frame into the shop after work tonight. You can work in there.”
Cheyito had more than he could handle during the next few weeks. The car frame was in good condition with hardly any dents but not only was the engine missing, someone had also torn out all the electrical wiring. Fortunately he was not alone and with Tony guiding and occasionally lending a hand, Cheyito was making good progress. He finished installing the electrical harness by the time the spring semester ended.

He had been so busy that he didn’t to want go to the ninth grade dance to celebrate the end of school but his friends wouldn’t take no for an answer and they forced him to attend. He was glad that he went. Otherwise he would not have seen Natalie. He was surprised to see her as she almost never attended any of the class activities. Somehow he mustered up the courage to ask her to dance and she accepted. She was a pretty brunette, with light brown skin and a bright smile that made Cheyito get goose bumps when she flashed her teeth at him as they danced. She was a clever girl and almost always got A’s, a fact that embarrassed Cheyito because he was not a very good student. Still he didn’t think that made them unsuitable for each other. “You’re a good dancer Cheyito,” she said after the music ended and they had walked back to where she had been standing with her girlfriends. “Thanks you’re pretty good also,” he answered, proud that she had liked the improvised steps he had shown her. “So what will you be doing all summer?” “I’m not sure. My dad wants to spend the summer with his parents in Mexico.” “Hey that should be fun. Where in Mexico?” Cheyito asked. “You so don’t want to know. They live on a rancho in Michoacan without running water Can you believe that? I think my dad has Alzheimers or something.” “It won’t be that bad,” Cheyito answered. “You can ride horses and swim in the rivers and shoot guns.” “Oh yeah that’s a lot of fun for a girl,” she said sarcastically. “I thought all girls liked horses,” he said. “Clothes horses maybe,” she said. “What’s a clothes horse?” “It’s what my mom calls me because I like shopping for new clothes so much. How about you, are you going on vacation some place?” “Yeah I’m going to Jalisco,” he said. “Jalisco Mexico? she asked surprised. “No, I’m kidding. Jalisco Auto parts. It’s wh ere I work.” “You turd!” she said, raising her hand as if to hit him. I didn’t know that you had a job?” she asked with disbelief. “Yeah I’ve been working there since I was thirteen.” Suddenly one of her girlfriends pulled her aside and started talking to her in a hushed voice. Cheyito wanted to wait until Natalie returned to continue their conversation but he began to feel uncomfortable as the minutes dragged on and finally he left to join his own crew.

 Natalie left soon after with the same girlfriend and it seemed that there was some sort of problem. At least that was what Cheyito thought when he saw them leave and saw how stiffly the girls moved across the gymnasium floor. Later he danced with a girl who told him that Natalie’s boyfriend had appeared high at the door, asking for her. Cheyito felt the same pangs of jealousy that gripped him every time that he saw or heard of Natalie’s boyfriend and he tried to forget those feelings by losing them on the dance floor, dancing almost every song until the evening ended. Later on the way home his friends laughed at him, saying that he must have caught some sort of dance fever. He had enjoyed himself and he didn’t care what his friends said, especially since they had spent most of the night leaning against the wall of the gymnasium.

The days passed quickly for Cheyito that summer. Normally after the first month of vacation he was bored but this time it was different; he had a car to restore. There were even days that he didn’t want go home at night and Old Tony had to turn off the lights and force him out. His mother who usually didn’t worry about him was concerned that he wasn’t getting enough rest and one day told him as much. “Mijo, I want you to get home by nine every night,” she said. “Nine, I’m just getting started at nine mom.” “Let’s not argue. I want you home at nine,” she said. There was no use arguing with her once her mind was made up. She was a woman that always knew what she wanted and never wavered in her resolve. She had learned that a single parent had to be strong to overcome the many problems that are encountered in raising a child alone. Otherwise she wouldn’t have much of a chance at succeeding. And she was determined to raise a good and honest son. Her husband was killed by a drug addict who was robbing a convenience store when Cheyito was just two, a fact that she never let Cheyito forget. Drugs were always around in the neighborhood. Cheyito knew about them, knew the guys that bought and the ones that sold. Secretly he knew that Carlos, Natalie’s boyfriend, ran errands for the local dealer. That’s why he had a nice ride. He had seen Carlos come into Tony’s looking for a replacement part to a 57 Thunderbird and no one else had a car like that but Duran, the dude that controlled the drug action in the neighborhood. Carlos didn’t know that Cheyito had a crush on his girlfriend Natalie and in fact Carlos ignored him as if it was beneath him to even acknowledge that Cheyito existed. Carlos had a senior class complex of arrogance and also felt superior because he had money and a nice car. Natalie thought that the money came from Carlos’ parents. The only ones that knew about Carlos’ sideline were those that he supplied with drugs and now Cheyito knew too or at least had a good reason to suspect where Carlos got his cash.

Summer vacation was ending quickly and with only two weeks left Cheyito was afraid that he was not going to meet his goal of driving to school on the first day. Actually he was not as an anxious to do so as he had been at the start. The car was looking really fine and he was now savoring every minute that it took to put the finishing touches. He wanted most of all to make sure that everything was as perfect as possible. He didn’t want to rush loco like just to get it finished. He and Old Tony were even taking time from the regular work day to take care of the last details. By Labor Day, traditionally marking the end of summer vacation, the car still needed lights, paint and upholstery. He and Old Tony had installed the rebuilt engine the previous weekend and they both cheered when they took the car around the block on the first trial run. It performed beautifully. The lights were the last things that Cheyito would work on. He would have to pay someone to paint and upholster it.
When school started Cheyito walked the same route that he had walked for the past several years. When he met up with his school friends he wanted to tell them about his car but he had planned a surprise and it took all his mental strength to keep quiet. Several times he was tempted to spill the beans about Midnight, the name he had secretly been calling his car. But he resisted the temptation, even when he saw Carlos drive into the school parking lot with his 1980 Pontiac painted Candy Apple Red and all his friends ooed and awed. Natalie was also in the car and Cheyito’s heart leaped inside his chest when she got off and walked toward them, hand in hand with Carlos. Cheyito mentally blocked Carlos out of the picture and all he could see was Natalie, looking tanned and even more radiant than before summer. Natalie smiled as she walked by. Cheyito and each of his friends assumed that the smile was meant for each of them. Actually the smile was for all of them. She was happy to be beautiful and to have the best boyfriend in the whole school. Cheyito resisted saying something when his friends began to describe Natalie’s physical attributes in lewd, vulgar language. He felt like telling them to grow up and get a life instead of ogling girls. In the past he had eagerly contributed to similar sessions about girls and when he thought about it, realized that he had changed over the summer.

He had social studies with Natalie later that morning and he managed to get a seat across the aisle from her. “Hi,” he said shyly. “Hi Cheyito,” she said with a smile. “How was Mexico?” he asked her. “You were right. I had fun. I rode horses, swam in the river, made friends.” “I told you, you would like it,” he said. “You can’t believe it but I almost wanted to stay. Can I tell you a secret? I met a great guy there, she said. He wanted to marry me. Guys are so mature down there.” Cheyito was not expecting such a terrible turn of events. She was seeing him as a friend. Someone that she could tell her secrets to, a confidant in her love life. He was crushed and would have let out a moan if the teacher had not entered the room and demanded quiet from the class. The entire period he reviewed the conversation with Natalie, hoping to see that he had misinterpreted what she meant. But in the end he came up with the same conclusion, he meant nothing to her. He was just a friend. When class was over he hoped to continue the conversation with her but she went off with one of her girlfriends, talking in hushed tones and every once in awhile they would let out a loud exclamation such as “No way girlfriend!” or “get outta here bitch!” He walked behind them, trying to overhear what they were saying and managed to make out that Natalie was telling her friend about her fling in Mexico. He had heard enough and he slowed down and let them get out of hearing range.

The rest of the day he went through the motions of going to class but if anything important was said he missed it. His mind was on other things, like wondering why in the heck he had worked so hard on the car. He thought about not finishing midnight, letting it rust in the yard along with the other junk frames. He felt sorry for himself and began to enjoy feeling miserable and wronged. He even imagined himself in a tragic accident and Natalie finally realizing how much he meant to her, throwing herself on his dying body and confessing her love for him. Not even old Tony could cheer him up when he saw him. “You look like I felt when I lost that 67 Chevy at cards to Taki,” old Tony said. “I saw him yesterday and asked about the car. He said that when they were loading it onto the ship that was to take it to Japan, the cable broke and it plunged into the ocean. I laughed my ass off. I guess if you couldn’t have the car nobody else was going to get it either."

Actually old Tony’s story cheered Cheyito up a little but he wanted to continue keep feeling sorry for himself. At least for a little while longer. However once he started working he began to feel better, the lifting, pushing and climbing having an energizing effect on him and he forgot his earlier state of mind. At the end of the work day he and Old Tony dropped by to see the car at the paint and upholstery shop run by a friend of old Tony’s. Cheyito was feeling like his old self by then and when he saw the car’s midnight blue paint job it shocked him. He had been working on the old frame for so long that he had gotten used to the bare gray metal. Even Old Tony was impressed with the way the car had been transformed. It was beautiful.

During the next few days Cheyito filled his thoughts with his car, remembering every detail; the way the engine roared to life when he turned over the motor, the way it felt to sit at the wheel and look over the hood and out the side windows. He still needed to install lights and a stereo and chrome trim but that was easy, pleasurable work. The difficult work was behind him. He thought a lot about Natalie too, went over in his mind the conversations he had with her, what she said and how she said it. How she had acted when she was telling her friends about the young man from Mexico that wanted to marry her. He felt he had seen deep inside her and he didn’t like what he saw, a girl more interested in herself than in other people. His friends had been right she went with Carlos because he had a nice car, not because she loved him. And she was not interested in him that was for sure. Still he couldn’t help feeling pleasure when he saw Natalie in the hall or in his social studies class but he made no effort to find a seat close to her or to make up reasons to engage her in conversation. Intuitively he knew that he had to stay away from her just as he kept away from the drug users and the drug dealers. Luckily putting the finishing touches on his car was more than enough distraction, a delicious job that he prolonged until Old Tony practically had to threaten serving him with an eviction notice.

The night that he was to drive his car home for the first time, Cheyito was full of excitement and trepidation. Old Tony had taught him to drive and had gone with him to get his license but at the last minute Cheyito had doubts about his driving ability. What if he wrecked his beautiful car, or stalled it on the way home and couldn’t get it started again? These and other negative thoughts assailed him and again it was Old Tony that practically shoved him inside the car. “Go on get out of here,” he told Cheyito. “You’ll be fine.” The car handled superbly and by the time he reached home he had lost his fears and wanted to continue driving. He went around the block a few times before he headed towards Broadway, the main street of his barrio. He felt a little embarrassed driving such a beautiful car and he was glad it was a quiet school night with few people out. As he went through the next intersection he saw Carlos’ candy apple red car on the side street, waiting for the red light to change. He looked back through the rear view mirror, hoping that Carlos was going to cross Broadway but he turned and was right behind him. Damn he said to himself, realizing that he didn’t want to be seen by Carlos or to be seen by Natalie if she was in the car with him. He pressed on the accelerator and the car’s big engine roared and quickly gained speed. He was hoping to make the green light at the next intersection but it turned yellow and then red and he was forced to bring his car to a stop. Thinking quickly, he slipped the hood of his sweatshirt over his head, just before the candy apple red car pulled up alongside him. Carlos gunned the motor of his car several times and then engaged his car’s hydraulic system and raised the front end up and then brought it down. The red car‘s passenger door was next to Cheyito and he could see that Natalie was seated next to Carlos but she didn’t recognize him, the hood completely covering his face. The red car continued going up and down and its engine was gunned several times. It was a clear and out challenge and Cheyito’s apprehension about being seen gave way to anger and he engaged his own car’s powerful hydraulic system and the car began to rock from front to back and sideways then he gunned the car’s engine. When the light changed back to green both cars sped out but Cheyito made a sharp right turn onto a side street as Carlos and Natalie continued down Broadway. Cheyito made another turn and headed back home. He was not about to jeopardize months of work on some silly race.
He and his mother had cleaned out the small one car garage and when he reached home the garage was open, his mother waiting on the front porch in anticipation. He pulled into the garage and his mother went out to take a look at the car that he obsessed about all summer. “It is beautiful mijito”, she said admiringly “You really like it mom?” he asked. “Yes I do. I would never drive such a car but on you it looks good.” “Thanks mom,” he said as he draped one arm over her shoulder and hugged. “Now maybe you’ll spend some time at home and not in that dirty junkyard,” she added. “Come on now, get cleaned up and have some dinner.”


Daniel Cano said...

Antonio, just these last few days I was thinking how investing in a classic, old car would be better than a bank savings (barely 1%) or the stock market, which is always chancy. Thanks for the read.

Margaret Guerrero said...

This is a good story and can't wait to read the rest of it!