Monday, December 31, 2018

Franz Kafka in Fresno

A short story by Daniel A. Olivas
Franz Kafka hated his father.  And he had good reason to harbor such feelings.  Specifically, Franz could not forgive his father for insisting that his only child be named Franz.  Franz understood that his father was very proud that he very likely was related to the great writer by virtue of sharing the same surname.  However, with a name like Franz, Carl virtually guaranteed that his son would be beaten up every day of his life from kindergarten through high school.  Fresno was not a hospitable place for a slender, overly-intelligent, German-Mexican named Franz.  Franz wondered why he couldn’t have been named after some relative on his mother’s side.  The Gamboa family possessed many fine names from which to choose such as Alfredo, Eloy, César and even Kiko, which was really a nickname.  Sometimes, when he was nursing a black eye given to him by a bully, Franz would daydream about who he could have been.  The possibilities made his young head swim in a giddy swirl.  Can you imagine it?  Kiko Kafka!  Who in his right mind, even in Fresno, would mess with a boy named Kiko Kafka?  But, alas, he was named Franz.  And so it was: Franz hated his father.
            The day Franz’s father died, Franz had made a vow never to speak to his father again.  Enough is enough, he reasoned.  If you hate someone, why waste time speaking with each other?  Unfortunately, Franz made the vow before he got the call that his father had died. Of course, he felt a great pang of guilt.  How could a son hate his father especially when his father has died?  It was not right.  So Franz flew back to Fresno from Los Angeles and made certain that Carl had a fine burial.  With his mother long gone, Franz was now officially an orphan at the age of thirty-one.
            “Good-bye, Papá,” said Franz as the coffin slowly creaked down into the fresh grave.  “I didn’t mean to hate you.”
The few people who attended looked away and the priest offered nothing more than a grunt.  As Franz started toward his car, an old man stopped him with a large, heavy hand placed carefully but insistently on Franz’s shoulder. 
“I knew your father well,” said the man.
“Who are you?” asked Franz.
The old man smiled.  “Just a man,” he said.  “Nothing more, nothing less.”
They stood there in silence.  Franz felt as though his head would explode.
“Well,” Franz finally said.  “Thank you for coming.  I’m sure my father would have been happy you made the effort.”
The man let go of Franz’s shoulder.  “I doubt it,” he said with a chuckle.
With that, the man turned and wandered away.  Franz noticed that the man was almost a giant, certainly seven feet tall if he were an inch.  Franz let out a sigh and continued toward his car.  Why would a sardonic giant be attending his father’s funeral?  And why did Franz bother showing up?  What possible benefit could be derived from his presence at the funeral of the only man he hated?  Nothing good could come of this.  There was only one solution.  Franz needed to find a Starbucks.  Since moving to Los Angeles ten years ago, he had become addicted to the brilliant concoction known as the Iced Caramel Macchiato.  It was his only addiction and he fed it liberally.  Franz wondered if Starbucks had made any inroads into Fresno.  He then laughed because to ask such a question would admit to a great ignorance as to how the world worked.  Franz drove into the nearest gas station and, after filling up his Ford Taurus, he asked the attendant for directions to the nearest Starbucks. 
            “On Cedar,” the man said without a smile.  “Just south of Shepherd Avenue.”  The man pointed with his right thumb over his left shoulder.
            “Thank you,” said Franz.
            “Okay,” said the man.
            As Franz walked to his car he suddenly froze.  On the driver’s side window crawled a plump, gigantic cockroach.  For obvious reasons, Franz had developed an aversion to all vermin, in particular cockroaches.  He shivered a deep shiver that went down below his heart.  Franz took a deep breath, averted his eyes, and got himself into the car.  Once safely inside, he looked for the cockroach but it had disappeared.  And for reasons he could not fathom, Franz at that moment missed that cockroach more than his father.  He let out a sigh.  He needed an Iced Caramel Macchiato now more than ever.  Franz imagined the gas station attendant’s thumb pointing toward Cedar and aimed his car in that direction.
            The moment Franz entered the Starbucks, his heartbeat and breathing slowed, his brow unknitted, his hands unclenched.  Ah!  Starbucks.  He stood without moving, absorbing the calm, the familiar coffee smells and sounds.  Franz looked about his second home.  A few young, beautiful people chatted in one corner, two old men played chess over by the wall, a mother and her two children laughed and joked over their frothy drinks.  What a perfect place.  Franz walked to the counter and there stood the most magnificent example of young womanhood he had ever seen.  Her nametag said NAVIDAD which means “Christmas.”  She, indeed, looked like the Madonna, the Virgin—La Virgén de Guadalupe—with long black hair spilling out from under a perfect Starbucks cap.
            “May I help you?” she smiled.
Franz had never seen such a beautiful smile.  His hands shook and his tongue had trouble finding the right position to put itself to form a word.
“Sir?” she asked still offering nothing but the most exquisite smile Franz had ever witnessed.  The young woman’s eyes then brightened with an idea.  She offered: “¿Puedo ayudar usted, señor?”
Oh, God bless her, thought Franz.  She thinks I speak only Spanish.  What a wonderful, thoughtful, empathetic creature she is!  He noticed that she did not wear a wedding band and wondered how such a perfect woman could still be unmarried even taking into account her obvious youth.  Fresno men just don’t get it, he figured.  They just don’t know how lucky they are to have such a perfect woman in their midst.  Navidad was a true Christmas gift, one for any day of the year.
“Sorry,” said Franz trying his best to offer a smile that expressed the joy that filled his heart at that moment.  Instead, he merely confused the young woman.
“Why are you sorry?” she asked.
Franz coughed and felt the beginnings of flop sweat on his upper lip the kind that would have made Nixon proud.  “Iced Caramel Macchiato, please,” was all he could get out.
The young woman nodded.  “Size?”
“Oh, yes,” he said.  “Sorry.”
She stood there offering nothing but a gentle look of understanding.  She certainly had seen all kinds.
“Grande,” said Franz thinking that he should pace himself.
The young woman keyed it into the cash register with a few beeps and grabbed a cup from the counter.  “Name?”
This was the only part of the Starbucks experience Franz hated.  Because he had ordered a bar drink, the young woman would have to write his name on the cup, hand it to the barrista who would then make the drink and, when finished, call out the name printed on the cup.  Inevitably, Franz would be misspelled into Frank and it was just too much trouble to offer a correction.
“Frank,” said Franz.
The young woman nodded, smiled and printed Frank on the cup before handing it to the tall, earringed, young man who worked the bar.  The barrista annoyed Franz for some reason, though he wasn’t quite certain why.  After paying, he waited by the bar to observe how his drink was being put together.  This annoyed the young man, or at least that’s what Franz surmised.  He wondered if this poor excuse for masculinity was sleeping with the young woman.  Such thoughts made Franz feel a bit ill so he shook his head and tried to think of happy things.  What to think of?  But he couldn’t think happy thoughts.  His mind kept falling back to the dream he’d had last night as he slept in his old room, his family’s house quiet except for Franz’s breathing.  In the dream, Franz admired a beautiful black fish that swam in a small round bowl that sat on the kitchen counter in his parents’ house.  Oh, what an elegant fish it was, too!  It swam slowly, regally, showing off its almost translucent, flowing fins.  But then Franz noticed that the water grew dirty.  And soon the fish was swimming in muck, gasping for oxygen.  He quickly poured some of the water out and refilled it.  But the water grew dirty again and despite changing the water numerous times, the water changed each time into the noxious brew.  Suddenly, Franz’s long-deceased black cat, who was named Blue, leapt from behind and snatched the fish with a lightening quick paw.  Before Franz could do anything, Blue gulped down the fish whole.  Franz shook a finger at Blue and said, “Blue, give me back the fish.”  Blue did what cats do so well: he smiled but did not obey.  After a few more scoldings from Franz, Blue leaned back upon his spine and made a loud mewing sound.  Franz looked closely at Blue’s hind legs that were spread wide open.  With another mew, Blue quickly gave birth to the fish.  Franz should have been a bit surprised because Blue was a male.  But no matter.  Franz said, “Thank you, Blue,” and put the fish back in the bowl.  The fish happily swam about and the water looked cleaner than it had before.  Franz then woke.
Franz’s mother had been an expert dream interpreter and he wished that he could find out what this one meant.  She had inherited the skill, she always said, from her grandmother who was a famous curandera from Las Vegas.  But his mother was dead.  So all Franz could do was be haunted by his dream’s disturbing images.  Suddenly the young man behind the bar yelled, “Iced Caramel Macchiato for Frank!”  Of course, Franz was the only person waiting so there was no reason for the young man to yell.  Franz reached for his drink and offered a nod as thanks.  The young man’s face suddenly broke into a smile that was nothing short of angelic.  With a few movements of a facial muscle here, another there, this dreary, bored-to-tears teenage boy became a seraph, an exquisite celestial spirit.  Franz could not help but offer his own smile.  How could he not?  Franz took a sip while keeping his eyes locked on the barrista.  Perfect!  He had never tasted a better Iced Caramel Macchiato.
“Thank you,” said Franz.
“You’re very welcome, Frank,” said the young man still looking like an angel.
Franz nodded and started to walk away.
“It’s funny,” said the young man.
Franz stopped and looked back.  “What?”
“Your name.”
Franz now offered a laugh.  “What’s funny about ‘Frank’?”
“Oh, no, that’s not what I meant.”  The young man wiped his brow with the back of his hand before continuing.  “Not the name.  It’s just kind of funny because it’s almost my name.”
The young man pointed to his nametag.  Franz squinted to read the letters.  When it registered exactly what he read, his mouth opened slightly making a small smacking sound.  The nametag said FRANZ.  Franz Kafka blinked once, and then again.  He moved one foot, and then the other.  He pulled away from the bar and accelerated as he passed by the young woman at the cashier.  The young woman said, “Bye!” but Franz didn’t acknowledge her.  He opened the glass door and the midday Fresno sun quickly counteracted the Starbucks air conditioning.  Franz found his car, got in, placed his Iced Caramel Macchiato into a cup holder, and started the engine with a vroom.  As he eased his car out of the parking lot, Franz thought about his father who now lay in a box under fresh, wet dirt.  And he knew then that he could not hate Carl Kafka even if he tried.  Franz took a sip of his drink and savored the coolness within his mouth.  It was without question the best Iced Caramel Macchiato he had ever tasted.
[“Franz Kafka in Fresno” is featured in Anywhere But L.A.: Stories (Bilingual Press).]

Friday, December 28, 2018

Facing the Truth about Facebook 2018

Melinda Palacio

Before ringing in the New Year, I am taking advantage of the quiet everywhere to get some writing done. I realized only too late that I had not prepared a piece for this week's La Bloga. My New Year's Resolution will involve being better prepared and better organized. It's safe to say that a few of my husband's good habits have rubbed off on me. After ten years, I see the benefits of having less clutter and an organized closet. One change Steve has made in his life that I continue to resist is his decision to close his Facebook account for good. He has pointed out how FB has gotten rich over the concept of using people like me, people who regularly put up free content on a website that they get rich off of by selling my information and those of my 'friends' and reading my posts and messages and learning what I like and dislike and sharing that information with their advertisers. See the NYT article for 5 Ways Facebook Shared Your Data or yesterday's article which breaks down Facebook's rule book and how the company makes about $5 billion in profit per quarter thanks to our sweet posts and rants. The bottom line is Steve does not appreciate being used or manipulated and he values his privacy more than I do.

Earlier this month, La Bloga learned that Facebook had unblocked and restored all of our posts. Now, that have a platform again, I'm not eager to give it up. I suppose I can point to vanity of wanting to share that photo of me in Ireland or of me eating a fabulous meal or wearing a new dress that keeps me buying into the deal with the FB devil, all under the guise of being connected to over a thousand friends and of being a writer who will reach a bigger audience with this great deceit that we've all signed up for. In reality, every private message, every red heart or smiley face means data that the FB sells to other companies like Netflix and Yahoo. And if you think you're too savvy to fall into the traps of how FB is using you, think two words: President Trump. Sure, neither you nor I voted for the thing in white house, but a whole bunch of other people did and a whole election was stolen thanks to FB giving access to real and fake accounts in exchange for the product: you.

Before I was addicted to photographing my food and looking at random videos of people that I vaguely know, I viewed the internet as a source for useful essays and information that might help my writing. It was here on La Bloga, before I joined my fellow esteemed Blogueros, that began my day in anticipation of what I might find on La Bloga. After all, being a fan of Daniel Olivas's column led to my first published story, and eventually, my first published novel. I trust that there are still La Bloga readers who turn to our site before turning to the a highly curated website where users manipulate their reality and post what they want you to see. Better yet, I trust readers of La Bloga will choose to lose themselves in a book and wonder where the time went.

As 2018 comes to a close, I've published a a new poetry book, Bird Forgiveness (3: A Taos Press) two of the Bird Forgiveness poems were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Readers of La Bloga know I've written several journalism and personal memoir pieces on La Bloga, as well as poems in literary journals, the most recent in Fifth Wednesday Journal, a special issue, Fall 2018 Issue 23, coedited by Ana Castillo and Vern Miller with cover art by Claudia D. Hernandez. La Bloga's own, Amelia Montes, contributed an excerpt from her upcoming memoir that was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. The call for Fifth Wednesday Journal's special issue on immigration was earlier this summer before the deaths of two children: Felipe Gomez Alonzo and Jakelin Caal. I also found out about the call for entries through a message on Facebook.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

An American Journey, from El Puerto de San Juan to LA's Westside

      Mike Sapien’s grandfather arrived in the United States in 1900, ten years earlier than those who migrated north to flee the violence and famine of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917). I spoke to Mike in his Playa del Rey home, where he told me, other than his family, no one had ever asked him about his life in the U.S.
     Mike’s grandfather left Puerta de San Juan, Guanajuato in the late 1800s and arrived in LA's Westside with his friend Pascual Escobar, who would found one of the most important sewer construction companies in Los Angeles, and whose family would later open Casa Escobar, the first upscale Mexican restaurant on LA's westside, both families living testaments to the contributions Mexican migrants have made to the U.S. economy and culture.
     As young men, Sapien and Escobar arrived in Sherman (West Hollywood), a railroad town, where they worked in the switching yard. The two friends hired on to do the backbreaking work that extended the rail lines through all areas of Los Angeles, into Santa Monica and the beach areas.
     Experienced Mexican railroad workers were paramount to the development of the railroads throughout the Mid and Southwest, and neither the Southern Pacific nor the Santa Fe questioned one's legal status.
     Mike’s maternal grandfather, Senor Barozo, came to U.S. in 1906, first settled in Santa Monica, where he sent Mike's mother to St. Anne’s School. Coincidentally, Mike’s father, Roberto, also attended St. Anne’s.
     Born on the Westside, Roberto Sapien, Mike’s father, graduated from Fairfax H.S. in 1915, the closest high school accessible to the children who lived on the rural West Los Angeles. University High School did not open until the 1920s, and Santa Monica High School only accepted students who resided in Santa Monica. Of the many Mexican men his age living on the Westside, Roberto was one of the few educated in the United States.
     As the metropolitan Los Angeles spread west, giving rise to places with names like Westwood, Brentwood, and Bel-Air, Mike's grandfather found work in the newly burgeoning landscape industry, alongside other Mexican and Japanese men. Since the skilled trades unions accepted only white workers at the time, Mexican and Japanese men carved a niche in the landscape trade.
     Most were superb ranchers and farmers, and they understood agriculture and ranching better than most Anglo migrants from the east. However, turning mountainsides into beautifully landscaped grounds was brutal work and paid little. Roberto, Mike’s father, always looking for an opportunity, used the knowledge his education gave him to open one of the first nurseries in Sawtelle, on the rented land around their family home, just off Santa Monica Boulevard.
     While Mike’s grandfather worked to make the nursery a success, Roberto found a way to bring in extra income. He landed a job on the 450-acre estate of Edward Doheny, located in the hills that would one day become Bel-Air. Roberto worked for the Doheny family for many years. When business was slow at the nursery, Roberto’s salary supplemented the family income.
     After a day’s work on the Doheny estate, Roberto would return home to work in the family nursery. In addition, Roberto took outside work landscaping and maintaining gardens in homes throughout the growing westside.
     Mike recalled, as a child, watching his grandfather and his father work hard and long, sometimes not eating dinner until well after dark, six to seven days a week. Eventually Mike's grandfather and father recognized the futility in renting land, especially in an area where acres lay fallow all the way to the ocean. Why not sacrifice just a little more, work even harder, and buy land they could call their own?
     Roberto and his father saved, tucking away even pennies, until one day, they bought an acre of land right in the neighborhood near the corner of Cotner and Missouri Avenue, just off Santa Monica Boulevard, where the 405 freeway passes today.
     Mike’s grandfather built his home on the front of the lot, and Roberto built his home at the back, using the remaining land for the family nursery. Mike recalled, “This was in Sawtelle. It was where I was raised, along with all the families that lived on Cotner Avenue. I remember, let’s see, the Patton, the Carranza, the Vasquez, and the De Anda families. I think all the Chicano families lived on Cotner at one time or another.”
     He described the racially mixed neighbors living on Cotner Avenue, near Santa Monica Boulevard, as mostly Okies escaping the 1930s Dust Bowl, Mexicans, Japanese, and even a black family or two. But Cotner Avenue, between Olympic and Pico Blvd, La Gara was mostly Mexicans. They owned the few stores and businesses, like the Villas and Escamillas, who opened neighborhood co-ops.
     “On Cotner Avenue,” Mike estimated, “there were at least sixty families, mostly recently arrived Anglos, about thirty Mexican families, ten or so were Asian families, mostly Japanese.”
     For Mike, like all his friends, Santa Monica Boulevard provided most of the entertainment, the Saturday serials at the Tivoli and Nu Art theaters, the bus to the beach, the restaurants, library, fire station, and grocery stores.
     He described the boulevard as nearly cosmopolitan; though clearly, Sawtelle still catered to farm related businesses more than any other business at the time. He said, “Even with all the newer stores, I still remember Hawkins’ Feed Store at one end of the Cotner Avenue.”
     The Rivera Country Club was not only a golf course but an equestrian center with stables and show grounds, holding international competitions. One year, in the 1930s, Mexico’s famed equestrian team arrived in Los Angeles to compete at the Rivera Country Club. Mike said it was a great honor for his father who had been asked to welcome the team to Los Angeles and serve as a host during their stay. Then, as an afterthought, Mike remembered that his father had often been asked to organize and participate in social events involving the Mexican community.
     Of his own childhood, Mike didn’t say much, probably because he spent so much time working, helping his father and grandfather. He didn’t remember having time to hang out with friends. At University High School, he joined the ROTC and ran track, but when I pressed him, he immediately came back to the work—the hours at the nursery and at the Doheny estate with his father and grandfather, honing his skills, disciplining himself, and learning to sacrifice, the qualities he believed would catapult him into the higher levels of society.
     When asked about racism, Mike could only recall a time in the Army, during the war, as a soldier stationed in Texas, he saw an Army captain, a Black man, sitting on a sidewalk, angry, and frustrated. Mike told me, “Because of his color, the captain could only use the ‘Black's Only’ bathroom. The man had already been to the war. I guess he hoped segregation was finished."
     Mike added, “Man, I remember thinking to myself, hey, since I’m not black, I can’t use the bathroom for blacks, and since I’m not white I can’t use the bathrooms for whites, so which bathroom can a Mexican use?” He said, “No, I don’t remember any other racism.”
     He figured, in school, among students or teachers…maybe because there were people of so many races on the Westside, not too many people thought about it.
     “At Emerson Junior High and at University High School, we went to classes with kids not just from our own neighborhood but kids from Beverly Hills and Westwood. I just never thought of myself as inferior to any one else.”
     Mike said that since his grandfather and his father were both so strong and enterprising, Mike absorbed those same qualities. He said whites didn’t intimidate him.
     As I considered this, I thought, perhaps, for blacks in the Southern states and Mexicans in the Southwest, to defend themselves against racist whites, either verbally or physically, meant swift and sometimes brutal retaliation from the dominant white community.
     But on the Westside of Los Angeles, Mexicans and whites were neighbors, became friends, played on the same sports teams, and sometimes even dated interracially. A Mexican kid didn’t hesitate to stand up to a white kid who insulted or humiliated him. Maybe that’s why the Zoot Suit riots of the 1940s were so violent, because many of the white servicemen who streamed into Los Angeles came from the South and Midwest, where Blacks had no choice but to fear violent reprisals.
     In Los Angeles, Mexicans didn’t retreat from physical threats simply because it came from a white sailor or soldier. Mexicans stood and fought, especially in the 1940s when white servicemen from other states came into Los Angeles thinking they could take any girl on the streets. It must have confounded these white servicemen when they saw white pachucos among the zoot suiters.
     In the Okies who ended up on the Westside, Mexican youth saw families even poorer, less educated, and more destitute than themselves. As my father had once told me, “We were all in the same boat. What was there to be racist about? We saw they weren’t any better than us.”
     To dispel the Hollywood stereotype of the lazy, un-ambitious, and thieving Mexican, Mike described how his grandfather, when he purchased his first property, would walk to the seller’s house each day to pay the note on the mortgage. When the seller told him he only needed to pay once a month, Mike’s grandfather thanked him but continued to pay on a daily basis. Who knew on which day the money might run out? Either way, he never waited an entire month between payments.
     Mike said it was the same with all of his grandfather’s debts. “The minute he received his utilities’ bill, my grandfather would walk across town to the utilities’ office and pay what he owed, even though the payment wasn’t yet due. That’s how he was,” Mike said, as if there is nothing more humiliating than to be in debt and not make your payments. Or as Shakespeare said, years earlier, "Neither a borrower nor a lender be."
     Even today, in this time of complex immigration status and unstable employment, banks and businesses eagerly extend loans to Mexicans/Latinos, who have excellent reputations for repaying loans, values Hollywood has ignored when characterizing Mexicans in film. Mike said he did not only learn this example from his grandfather but also from his aunts, who saved their money, “Sometimes just pennies,” for a number of years so they could buy a house.
     He recalled when they finally found the house they wanted, at $15,000, “My aunts walked into the bank and placed $14,000 in cash on the loan officer's desk,” Mike said, smiling. “They asked if the bank would carry a $1,000 mortgage.”
     The loan officer told them they didn’t need to give such as large down payment. His aunts insisted that he take their money. “See, they knew the bank made its money on their interest, so they wanted to pay it off a fast as they could.”
     December, 1941, Mike remembered sitting in the Nu Art Theater, on Santa Monica Boulevard, with his girlfriend. The projectionist stopped the movie and the house lights came on. The theater manager walked to the front of stage. He announced that Pearl Harbor had been attacked.
     “That’s how I found out about it,” Mike said.
     Not long after that day, perhaps feeling pangs of patriotism, along with the fact that he didn’t feel he had learned much in high school, Mike quit school and joined the Army Air Corps to become a pilot. The military, he maintained, provided the bulk of his education. Training in aviation, he studied for hours, developing his reading, writing, and analytical skills. The military’s no-nonsense method of learning gave Mike the education his formal schooling could not, one where everything he read or thought about pertained to a real-life situation.
     After the military, Mike began working at Douglas Aircraft, a steady job, with a regular salary but very little personal challenge and not much room for promotion or a big salary. Where other men saw working at Douglas as a stable, professional career, Mike realized his future there looked bleak. So, he resigned and started his own gardening, landscape business, returning to a profession he knew well. Yet, he had no idea whether he could earn enough money to support himself and, now, a family.
     Soon, Mike’s discipline, attention to detail, and social skills paid off. His business increased. He took on bigger and more important clients, not only landscaping but concrete work as well. He hired Frank Holquin, a childhood friend, a Brentwood boy, and brother of his friend Alfonso Holquin.
     “Frank,” he said, “was one of the best concrete men around. He drank quite a bit, though. I think it finally killed him. I heard that during the war he had seen terrible action in combat.”
     Shell shock (PTSD today) among Chicano WWII veterans wasn’t something folks talked about. There was no medication or therapy for them back then, only booze. Even those who did not see combat, shared in the pain when they returned home from military posts around the country to learn many of their childhood friend had been killed in Europe and the Pacific.
     Mike built his business through the 1950s, but in the 1960s, it boomed. Mike’s father opened a nursery in Malibu, where at the time there were few homes but plenty of land. Roberto purchased one acre of prime Malibu real estate for $16,000, a large sum for a vacant lot 25 miles up the coast.
     Eventually, the drive from West L.A. to Malibu took its toll on Roberto. It was difficult running a long-distance business. He decided to sell. He doubled his investment. Mike told him he could have gotten five times that much. Roberto said he was satisfied with the profit.
     Roberto took his money and invested commercial properties at the corner of Pico Blvd. and Barrington Avenues, in a booming Westside real estate market. He leased the buildings for a number of years, until he finally sold them at a very comfortable profit.
     Mike’s name in the commercial landscaping industry became widespread to contractors around the state. He signed major contracts with large firms and government agencies. To keep up on the latest changes in landscaping and business, he attended extension classes at UCLA.
     “The only thing I still regret, to this day,” said Mike, “was that I didn’t have a better education. With a college degree, life would have been so much easier.”
     Perhaps this is one of the reasons he never doubted his own children would go to college, one son graduating from Loyola Marymount and receiving a graduate degree from Columbia University.
     “I learned everything I could. I attended business seminars. I joined business clubs like the Latino Businessmen’s Association, the Executive Club, the Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Culver City Chambers of Commerce. I learned a lot from all of those people.”
     Mike said involvement in community affairs was not only satisfying but provided important business contacts. He landed a lucrative contract laying the irrigation systems for the two islands situated in Long Beach, near the Queen Mary. Mike said--now that he looks back on it--his grandfather and father were business visionaries. They bought when everyone else rented. They worked hard. They took risks.
     “Not a lot of people back then were willing to invest money in their own businesses,” he said, suggesting that his family saw opportunities where other families saw disaster. Though, there was a belief among many Mexican families in the 1930s, that one day the government would deport them, so why put their money into property they might lose?
     Mike told me he had an innate drive to better himself, whether through work or personal activity. He has traveled to Africa, Europe, and Asia. He learned to sail and has sailed to Hawaii, learned to pilot his own plane. Yet, through it all, he fondly remembered those early days in WLA, like Olympian Sonia Heany’s ice skating rink in Westwood, where and his friends would gather sometimes just to feel the coolness of the ice during the hot summer days.
     He said he and all the Westside families would forever be grateful to Marion Davies for building a center where children received immunizations and medical care during a time when no other care was available for poor or working-class families.
     Mike told me he savored his partial retirement, meeting with his Chicano childhood friends once a month at local Westside restaurants. He continued to travel, and took time to enjoy his family. He sold his business to a corporate buyer, but he maintained a three-year contract as a consultant to the company.
     From the large patio of his Playa Del Rey home overlooking the Marina Del Rey, we looked out at Point Fermin to the south and Point Dume to the north. What seemed like an arm’s stretch, sailboats entered and exited the main channel of the Marina below us. Mike thought maybe it was time to retire completely.
     On the day I spoke to him, a bit of haze filled the sky and Catalina was not visible. “You should see it on a clear day,” he said. “I guess I’ve come a long way from the days in Sawtelle when we Chicano kids used to shine shoes up at the Western Front, outside of the Soldiers Home.”
     As I shook hands to leave, I asked Mike what he thought about the bitter controversy surrounding the development of the Ballona Wetlands, taking place just below the hill from his home. He said, “I’m excited about the development, the theaters, stores and shops. More business is good, responsible development is what I support.”
     Thinking more about it, he said, “If I was against development, I guess I’d be saying we should have kept Cortner and La Gara like they were when we were kids.”
     That part of town was once considered the “other side of the tracks,” a neighborhood of ramshackle homes, broken down cars, and families barely making a living.
     “What? Don’t allow anyone else to move in,” he laughed, suggesting people will always need progress, if it’s for the better.

Readers can find Daniel Cano's award winning novel Death and the American Dream on

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

El Brindis del Bohemio

English translation below

El Brindis del Bohemio
Guillermo Aguirre y Fierro

En torno de una mesa de cantina,
una noche de invierno,
regocijadamente departían
seis alegres bohemios.

Los ecos de sus risas escapaban
y de aquel barrio quieto
iban a interrumpir el imponente
y profundo silencio.

El humo de olorosos cigarrillos
en espirales se elevaba al cielo,
simbolizando al resolverse en nada
la vida de los sueños.

Pero en todos los labios había risas,
inspiración en todos los cerebros,
y repartidas en la mesa,
copas pletóricas de ron, whisky o ajenjo.

Era curioso ver aquel conjunto,
de aquel grupo bohemio,
del que brotaba la palabra chusca,
la que vierte veneno,
lo mismo que melosa y delicada,
la música de un verso.

A cada nueva libación, las penas
hallábanse más lejos del grupo
y nueva inspiración llegaba
a todos los cerebros
con el idilio roto que venía
en alas del recuerdo.

Olvidaba decir que aquella noche,
aquel grupo bohemio
celebraba entre risas, libaciones,
chascarrillos y versos,
la agonía de un año que amarguras
dejó en todos los pechos,
y la llegada, consecuencia lógica,
del feliz año nuevo...

Una voz varonil dijo de pronto:
¡Las 12, compañeros!
Digamos el requiescat por el año
que ha pasado a formar entre los muertos.

¡Brindemos por el año que comienza!
porque nos traiga ensueños;
porque no sea su equipaje un cúmulo
de amargos desconsuelos.

Brindo, -dijo otra voz-, por la esperanza
que a la vida nos lanza,
de vencer los rigores del destino,
por la esperanza, nuestra dulce amiga
que las penas mitiga
y convierte en vergel nuestro camino.

Brindo, porque ya hubiese a mi existencia
puesto fin con violencia
esgrimiendo en mi frente mi venganza,
si en mi cielo de tul limpio y divino
no alumbrara mi sino
una estrella brillante : "Mi Esperanza".

¡Bravo!, -dijeron todos-, inspirado
esta noche has estado
y hablaste breve, bueno y sustancioso.

El turno es de Raúl; alce su copa
y brinde por... Europa,
ya que su extranjerismo es delicioso...

Bebo y brindo, -clamó el interpelado-,
brindo por mi pasado,
que fue de luz, de amor y de alegría,
en el que hubo mujeres tentadoras
y frentes soñadoras
que se juntaron a la frente mía...

Brindo por el ayer que en la amargura
que hoy cubre de negrura
mi corazón, esparce sus consuelos,
trayendo hasta mi mente las dulzuras
de goces, de ternuras,de amores
de delicias, de desvelos.

Yo brindo, -dijo Juan-, porque en mi mente
brote un torrente
de inspiración divina y seductora,
porque vibren en las cuerdas de mi lira
el verso que suspira,
que sonríe, que canta y que enamora.

Brindo porque mis versos cual saetas
lleguen hasta las grietas
formadas de metal y de granito,
del corazón de la mujer ingrata
que a desdenes me mata...
¡Pero que tiene un cuerpo muy bonito!

Porque a su corazón llegue mi canto,
porque sequen mi llanto
sus manos que me causan embelesos,
porque con creces mi pasión me pague...
¡Vamos! porque me embriague
con el divino néctar de sus besos.

Siguió la tempestad de frases vanas,
de aquellas tan humanas
que hayan en todas partes acomodo,
y en cada frase de entusiasmo ardiente,
hubo ovación creciente,
y libaciones y reír y todo.

Se brindó por la Patria, por las flores,
por los castos amores
que hacen un valladar de una ventana,
y por esas pasiones voluptuosas
que el fango del placer llena de rosas
y hacen de la mujer la cortesana.

Solo faltaba un brindis, el de Arturo,
el del bohemio puro
de noble corazón y gran cabeza;
de aquel que sin ambages
declaraba que solo ambicionaba
robarle inspiración a la tristeza.

Por todos estrechado alzó la copa
frente a la alegre tropa
desbordante de risa y de contento.
los inundó en la luz de su mirada,
sacudió su melena alborotada
y dijo así, con inspirado acento:

Brindo por la mujer, más no por esa
en la que hayáis consuelo en la tristeza
rescoldo del placer ¡Desventurados!;
no por esa que os brinda sus hechizos
cuando besáis sus rizos
artificiosamente perfumados.

Yo no brindo por ella, compañeros,
siento por esta vez no complaceros;
brindo por la Mujer, ¡pero por Una!
por la que me brindó sus embelesos
y me envolvió en sus besos:
por la mujer que me meció en la cuna.

Por la mujer que me enseñó de niño
lo que vale el cariño
exquisito, profundo y verdadero;
por la mujer que me arrulló en sus brazos
y que me dio en pedazos,
uno por uno, el corazón entero.

¡Por mi Madre bohemios!

Por la anciana que piensa en el mañana,
como en algo muy dulce y muy deseado;
porque sueña tal vez, que mi destino
me señala el camino
por el que volveré muy pronto a su lado.

Por la anciana adorada y bendecida,
por la que con su sangre me dio vida
y ternura y cariño;
por la que fue la luz del alma mía
y lloró de alegría
sintiendo mi cabeza en su corpiño.

¡Por ella brindo yo!
dejad que llore y en lágrimas desflore
esta pena letal que me asesina;
dejad que brinde por mi madre ausente,
por la que sufre y siente
que mi ausencia es un fuego que calcina.

Por la anciana infeliz que sufre y llora
y que del cielo implora,
que vuelva yo muy pronto a estar con ella;
por mi Madre, bohemios,
que es dulzura vertida en la amargura
y de mis negras noches es mi estrella...

El bohemio calló.
Ningún acento profanó el sentimiento
nacido del dolor y la ternura,
y pareció que sobre aquel ambiente
flotaba inmensamente...,

Un poema de amor y de amargura.

Translated by Heart Bitz
Written by Guillermo Aguirre y Fierro

A Bohemian Toast

Around a cantina table

on a winter’s night

rejoicefully were sharing

six happy bohemians

The echos of their laughter were escaping

and, from that quiet town

they were going to interrupt the imposing

and profund silence
The smoke of aromatic cigarettes

in spirals was raising to the sky

symbolizing, as it dissipated into nothing

the life of dreams … the dreams of life
I neglected to tell you, in that evening

this bohemian group

among laughter and sorrow, were celebrating

the happy arrival of the new year
Suddenly, a manly voice said

It is Midnight, comrades

Let us all toast for the year

that has become part of the Dead
Let us toast to the year that starts

May it brings us sweet dreams

not sour grief

Let us toast this time to the hope

that Life throws at us and the pains alleviate
I toast that, in my existence

already riddled with violence and vengeance

if, in my heaven, from yours – clean and divine

would shine but

a star … my hope
I drink and toast to my past,

which was of light, 
of love, and happiness,

and in which the gorgeous foreheads

of seductive ladies

had joined mine
I toast to Yesterday that, with sorrow

today covers with darkness my poor heart

scatters its comfort

bringing into my mind the sweetness

of joy, of tenderness, of good fortune, and concerns
I toast that in my mind

sprout a torrent of divine inspiration,

that the chords of my lyre vibrate

the verse that yearns, sings, and fall in love
I toast that my verses

reach the center of the woman that I love

for that with interest my passion pays off

for that I get intoxicated with the nectar of her kisses
Continued the barrage of meaningless phrases

of those so human

and, after each phrase of ardent enthusiasm

applause would grow
They toasted to the Motherland, to the flowers

to the chaste loves and to heated passions

that fill with roses the mud of pleasure
Only one toast was missing, Arturo’s

the pure bohemian of noble Heart

he stated that he only wanted

to steal the inspiration from Sadness
And this way he spoke, with inspired intensity
I toast to the woman, yet not to the one

in which you find solace in sadness

not to the one that gives us her charms

when you kiss her soft and scented curls
I do not toast to her … No, comrades

Sorry that this time I don’t please you

I toast to the woman, but only to one

to the one that offered me delights

and engulfed me with her kisses

I toast to the woman that tucked me in the crib
I toast to the woman that taught me from childhood

the value of profound and truthful love

I toast to the woman who cuddled me in her arms

and that bit by bit gave me her entire heart
To that golden and blessed old lady

that with her blood she offered me life

to the one that was the light of my soul

today I toast to my Mother, to my darling Mother
To that sad old woman that lives and cries

and to Heavens implores that I return

to my Mother, bohemians, who is the sweetness

poured into my sorrow and, in this night, a star

who wishes that I soon be with her
The bohemian became silent

and not a word spoiled the sentiment

born from pain and tenderness

and it appeared that, over that atmosphere,

was immensely floating …
A Poem of Love and Sorrow