Thursday, January 17, 2019

Chicanonautica: Seduced, Hallucinating Tex(t) And/Or Mex

by Ernest Hogan


When William Anthony Nericcio gave me a copy of his Tex(t)-Mex: Seductive Hallucinations of the “Mexican” in America he struck out his name for the title page, the way Carlos Fuentes taught him to, and autographed it, and added a cartoon balloon that made Speedy Gonzales, with “not Chicano” on his sombrero say: For Ernest Hogan, whose trippy novel High Aztech blew my mind!


Which is the effect I intended my novel to have on the reader. I am happy to report that Tex(t)-Mex had a similar effect on me.

It's rare that I find ideas similar to mine in books. Tex(t)-Mex not only echoes my twisted reality, but provides material that I wasn't aware of. Nericcio must be more obsessed with this stuff than I am.


And just what is this “stuff?”


Why, the bizarre ways that “America” perceives “Mexicans,” of course!


And by “Mexicans” we mean all Latinoids, be they o/a, a/o, x, or whatever newfangled, unpronounceable suffix the current identity crisis spawns.


America” has trouble seeing us. We are distorted by a haze of stereotypes and prejudices. Tex(t)-Mex dives in and does rocking, rasquache riffs on some prime examples, Orson Welles’ border fantasy Touch of Evil, ethnic Frankenstein sex monster Rita Hayworth, cartoon mini-superhero Speedy Gonzales, vomiting suicide Lupe Vélez, and even feminist/hipster goddess Frida Kahlo as documented by Gilbert Hernandez.


Yes, even when “Latinos” depict their own, it gets seductive and hallucinatory.


The problem is that America has trouble seeing “Mexicans.” Hollywood always gets us wrong. Even recent popular movies have token Latinoid as comedy relief with funny accents. And if you show up in real life, and are too different from the stereotypes that the society holds dear, things get . . . weird.


I know. Back in the twentieth century, nobody seemed to have any use for a Sci-Fi Chicano. Publishers didn’t see any money in it--New York still treats me like an illegal alien. A lot of my fellow “Latinos” thought that I was being traitorous working in a genre that celebrates technology, that they all knew was a tool of the oppressors.


Why couldn’t I write about our reality?


Our reality is different from Anglo reality. Documentary accounts of our lives get called “magical” realism. My attempts at journalism--with a little tweaking--often can pass for science fiction.


Which is why Tex(t)-Mex was such a pleasure. See? It’s not just me. There’s a major culture disruption here that we all have to learn to navigate.


Tex(t)-Mex, in all its postmodern, seductive hallucinatory glory, with lots of visuals that could trigger bouts of post-McLuhan nostalgia, is valuable for both Anglos and Latinos in becoming educated for the upheaval to come.


Besides, political correctness is just creating new stereotypes. Just as seductive and hallucinatory as ever, still steering away from reality.


I wonder if they’ll ever be able to see us? Maybe if we take off the sombrero, and the mask, shave the moustache, peel off the face, crack open the skull, expose the brain. . .


Ernest Hogan is scanning the mutating landscape, writing, drawing, and otherwise attacking 2019.


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

In Support of Los Angeles Teachers

Tomorrow will be the third day of La huelga. I want to share some posters from teachers during our marches in Downtown Los Angeles. Rain or shine, we are there. ¡Si se puede! ¡La unión hace la fuerza!


















Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Don Felipe Presente! Anaya Chupacabra Billy Kid. Boatyard Gluten-free Chile. Miller in Bisbee.

QEPD Don Felipe Ortego


Don Felipe-A Remembrance from Latinopia.com on Vimeo.


Expanding Limits, Making New Rules, Setting History Straight

Review: Rudolfo Anaya. Chupacabra Meets Billy The Kid. Norman:UOklahoma Press, 2018.
ISBN 9780806160726
Michael Sedano

Rudolfo Anaya continues expanding the horizons of Chicano Literature in his newest work, Chupacabra Meets Billy The Kid in so many ways. First off, the title is sleight-of-hand. While folklorists might come looking for some Chupacabra, a sci-fi platonic romance breaks out. Beyond that, let me count the ways Anaya is busting Chicano Literature loose from conventionality and celebrating himself. And if I’m wrong, I trust I’m not alone in celebrating Rudolfo Anaya’s ongoing enrichment of literatura Chicana with this exploration of the speculative muse.

For one, Chupacabra Meets Billy the Kid is a valedictory-in-progress for Anaya’s oeuvre by the author himself. For another, the author, a descendant of the New Mexico legend, sets the record straight about his forebearer. Then there’s the novel of the title, a science fiction plot knitting together the goat-sucker with la llorona, Big Foot, space aliens, an infested office of the U.S. president. There’s a meta-novel unraveling in the process. From University of Oklahoma Press, Chupacabra Meets Billy the Kid arrives as the year’s most entertaining title. Anaya sets the bar for 2019 U.S. Spec-Fic.

In one hundred seventy-two pages, the author weaves threads drawn from the fabric of his literary output. Curandera and mystic Ultima hovers on the outskirts of the action, these settlements are her haunts, the whole llano, is her tierra. As the story draws the character Rosa home, the author reminds readers of her origins, it carries her home:

The golden carp from a story told by the man who had told Ultima’s story. She had seen the boys fishing at the river when they left Puerto de Luna. Now the carp had appeared, a miracle. 

Other tokens of the Author’s career step forth aside from that magical carp; those muchachos from young Mares’ boyhood; place names; Anaya’s familia, even Roberto Cantu makes an appearance. These allusions offer metynomic cameos concatenating all the words and characters who’ve come before in Anaya’s life, culminating for the moment, here. It's not that this title stands alone, it belongs to this long-lived familia of created truths.

Chupacabra’s science fiction angle has its origins in Anaya’s Sonny Baca series that begins with Alburquerque and follows the seasons, Zia Summer, Rio Grande Fall, Shaman Winter. The detective’s nemesis, Raven, brings mysticism and time travel to Sonny’s world in that final title, in a bit of a fictive stretch then. Time travel is the central motive of today’s plot, and it works.

Unchanging and unchangeable, time travel makes for one long bitter irony for Rosa. She knows how the stories end. The girls she hugs farewell, they’ll be dead from disease a few years after Rosa’s hugged them and wished them long lives. Billy, too, is headed for his death.

People who read history get it. Pat Garrett was a hero. People who read more history, and fiction, get it, too. People related to Billy, like Rudolfo Anaya, and country gente, think of a cowardly blast, a kid singled out by double-crossing land barons, not the only killer in town. That's the story Rosa tells here.

Don Rudy adopts a female persona for Chupacabra’s lead character. She’s a novelist frustrated because, writing yet another Billy the Kid story, she feels its absence of authentic, of things and people not known anymore. All those women of the llano, the ones Bilito romanced, the ones who endured and gave succor after drunken gunfights to men with names. Research carries one only so far. Seeing is believing and the ultimate research. It's like Rosa makes a deal with the forces of nature.

The novel itself contains no surprises. The kid lives a short, violent life and gets gunned down and buried. End of story. What was his name, this Billy the Kid? Anglin? Bonney? Henry McCarty? The characters are what give the novel its fresh life. Rosa the researcher keeps novelist’s notes that leap from date to event to person. Rosa the storyteller seeks out the women whose stories didn’t get told, who lived in between those facts.

Rosa recorded the names of the families she met in the Pecos River villages. They always welcomed her into their homes, gave her a place to sleep, shared their meals. The women were the strength of the family and community. Work was strenuous and difficult for the men outdoors, and just as hard for the women. Raising families, preparing meals, canning for winter, making soap from lard and lye, washing, sewing, gardening, sometimes riding to the range to help with shearing sheep or branding cattle, bringing in water from cisterns or the river, chopping wood, cooking three meals on a wood-burning stove, attending church, raising chickens, having babies, curing every conceivable illness that struck family or neighbors, helping their comadres: the list was endless and exhausting.

For me, what I call the meta-novel offers the best moments of Chupacabra Meets Billy The Kid. Like a Shakespearean dramatic monologue, the author steps outside the narrative to offer writerly consejos about the creative process, an historian’s gloss on a particular detail, something the author needs to tell his readers at this juncture. For example, expounding on evil, Anaya has Rosa ask “What does this have to do with me?” and the reader should take that “me” as themselves.

“For starters, we know that most Advanced technological civilizations destroy themselves in their infancy. Nations create weapons, and once each country has its nuclear arsenal, political forces keep adding to the stockpile. No one wants to disarm. When we acquired nuclear weapons, we fit the rule. You only have to look at the proliferation that’s taking place, loose nukes being sold to terrorists. A crazy president with his finger on the nuclear button.”

The voice is Marcy, a disembodied character from an earlier novel, a voice in the machine who guides Rosa’s travels through space and time. Marcy is also Anaya’s voice, the omniscient metaphysical narrator hanging--perhaps impaled-- on the point of the Arrow Of Time.

Time, travel, space, the critters, these elements make up the whole cloth of the meta-novel. Anaya devotes some explanation to how Rosa gets to nineteenth century New Mexico. It’s not clear why Billy isn’t freaked out that he understands Rosa’s presence, but he’s of his time and of the future, multidimensional, as in this scene:

Billy forced a nervous laugh. “Maybe that’s why I don’t trust the written word. Most written about me is lies. You tell ‘em the truth, Rosa.”
Billy could not look into the future. Many books had already been written about him. lies and truths. Each reader had to come to his or her own conclusion about where the truth lay.
Rosa nodded. “I’ll try, Billy.” 

After two years in Billy’s time, Rosa rides a horse upriver and into her own time. Do the people in Billy’s time think Rosa stole Mancita, the horse she rode into the sunset on? Why doesn’t Rosa’s laptop run out of juice? Is it because in her own time, she's been gone just a few hours?

Readers need to sit back and enjoy the ride. Sci-fi is supposed to make sense, but only up to a willing suspension of the rules. After all, the imagination’s the limit, and Anaya’s muse lets loose a todo dar page after page. For example, a classic scene borrowed from the stopped clock showdown scene in a movie.

Rosa’s helplessly worked up seeing a jailer bully pounding Billy’s face with the butt of a rifle. Rosa gets kicked out of the jailhouse and comes face to face with the devil, a creature named “Saytir.” This is a formidable enemy, only a hidden derringer saved Rosa the last time she was alone with the alien spawn from her own time.

Saytir wore purple bell-bottom pants with silver rosettes sewed down the sides of the legs, a bright red shirt, and a dazzling blue satin vest. His neckerchief was pink, his hat a poor excuse for a large mariachi sombrero. His boots were obviously from a Juárez Mercado. On his gun belt he sported two silver pistols, one on each hip.
“Rosa,” he whispered in his best imitation of Gary Cooper in the movie High Noon. “We meet again.”

The ridicule is Anaya's most trenchant indictment of daily events. Much as the evil is a clownish buffoon, Saytir's power can destroy the world and only Rosa has the answer, it's tied up in the inevitability of Billy's legend, in the writer's power to suspend time and write events to fit their outcome.

Filling in Billy’s story demands mas o menos straight history, or in this narrative, fashioning creative non-fiction heavy on the fiction element, as Anaya develops the facts of the Lincoln County war. For readers with an historical bent, there’s a set of research notes at the end that links plot events to history. In other words, this stuff really happened, the names have been supplied to tell the fuller story.

Ultimately, Billy’s story is satisfying because of its fantasy—the time trip, the monsters, are supposed to be fun. And they magnify the horror of the truth. Big Foot and cyborgs aren’t real but that evil is. Marcy and Rosa step away from Billy’s narrative to address, engage, a writer’s ethical responsibility to record, document, reveal, explain. Marcy talks:

Write Billy’s history. Let people know we have this self-destructive instinct in us. It’s what led to the violent times in Lincoln. But there was some good in Billy. If you can find some goodness in Billy’s life, that’s the lesson to be learned and taught to the young. Otherwise, we’re lost. Your story can save the world.”
“ I didn’t set out to save the world!”
“Few writers do, and yet that’s your mission.”

At this juncture the transmission fades and Rosa and the reader are on their own. Billy gets buried. Rosa rides home with Josefa’s blue taffeta dress. Time returns to normal. None of this happened. Evil abounds. The

Order Chupacabra Meets Billy The Kid  publisher-direct at this link. Independent booksellers can order it for you.



The Gluten-free Chicano Cooks
Kathy and Jim Build a Boat. Boatyard chile verde.

Durf marveled at his teammate, a javelin thrower who lived in the Goleta monte. A born storyteller, my roommate spun a fanciful tale of a man I knew only by sight from track meets. I sought what germ of truth must lie at the heart of Durfee’s account.

Jim Clark back to camers
“Jim Clark goes takes his javelin to hunt deer in the mountains.” The story was Jim lived for free on a remote ranch and survived mostly off the land, running down deer in the chaparral. I loved the image my roommate conjured, a wild man living at the edge of civilization because he chose to live like that, free and unencumbered. I imagined Jim Clark went hungry a lot.

Jim Clark’s girlfriend, Kathy, loved him with immense dissonance. Jim’s life was impossible to share with a woman studying to make a career teaching high school English. It was during one of their off-again separations that Kathy and I were hanging around together.

Kathy filled whatever space she occupied. Not many people chose to occupy space with her, however, because Kathy spoke her mind. A woman of wit and brains, Kathy was a formidable personality who fit perfectly into my world, especially as we both were single and not looking. An ideal end-of-college-summer partnership.

Four years have ways of changing a person’s life and attitudes. I was back from overseas and learned from the locals that Kathy and Jim lived in the boatyard along the railroad tracks. They were building a boat and needed help. I called the boatyard. I hadn’t heard Kathy’s voice in four years but I recognized her “hello?” instantly and she mine. Old friends are good friends, separations are meaningless.

I asked him about the javelin story. “I tried it one time,” Jim Clark laughed. That was the day we laid the keel for the cement boat.

Kathy looks out while Jim and friend cement the deck.
Jim had identified a pile of rotted railroad ties where some steel rails lay by the rail side. He had already picked out his keel and pulled the rail to clear ground. All he needed was someone with a truck or car to transport the rail to the boatyard.

I drove the car into the weeds where Jim directed me to stop with the rail underneath. Jim and another fellow lifted the front end and I lashed it to the front bumper. We did the same on the other end.

The nose of the rail extended a few feet from both ends of the Buick Skylark. Slowly and not spotted by cruising cops or railroad dicks, we drove the back streets to the boatyard and dropped the keel in place. In the boatyard shack’s two-burner propane stove, Kathy made her famous dumpster soup and we feasted friendship, old times, the cement boat to be.

A few months after, the boatyard shack has gained a dining table, an outdoor couch and several makeshift seats. Where we’d dropped the keel now stood a rebar and steel wire superstructure of a 40-foot boat. Jim worked on that boat with the intensity that led him to think he could chase down a deer and kill it with his javelin. The deer was certainly out of reach but Jim had built a boat. All it needed now was a skin of cement.


Months passed as Jim constructed the hull, deck, interior spaces and hidden recesses. The work took the time required. Ugency arrived with cementing. The work must be completed in one weekend so the boat dries and cures as a single mass of cement and steel that floats on the open sea. Friday after work, Barbara and I drove up from Temple City. The work was well underway by our arrival late afternoon. Jim and Kathy had lots of friends.
Jim Clark. qepd.

The third day the hull looked like a boat. Only a few people fit inside so workers took shifts pounding cement into the interior walls. Others touched up the exterior. By noon Sunday, the cement boat was done. Most of the crew had left, exulting in knowing they’d joined the culmination of an incredible feat. Jim had read books and talked to old salts, he and Kathy moved into the boatyard, and they built that boat by hand.

I volunteered to make the celebratory feast, a one-dish meal I call Boatyard Chile Verde. After Jim and the cement boat were taken by pirates in southeast Asia, Kathy sailed those waters in hopes of word. She cooked Boatyard Chile Verde for merchant mariners the world over, it was the crew’s favorite dish.



You can make this on a one-burner propane stove, or in a sartén over an open fire. Ingredients, improvisation, and preparation are the keys to making Boatyard Chile Verde.

INGREDIENTS
Pork. Sub beef or chicken.
Gf flour.
Tomatillos.
Green chile – hatch, California, mild new mexico, canned whole are fine.
El pato hot sauce.
comino
Onions
Garlic.
Cilantro
Cast iron frying pan and lid.
Paper or plastic bag.
Sharp knife.
Salt
Pepper
Chile powder
Olive oil

Into the bag, put a ¼ cup of gluten-free flour, a pinch of salt, pepper, and chile powder.

Wash and dry the (pork) meat.
Cut the meat into ½” cubes.
Dust the meat with seasoned flour in the bag.

Dice a large onion and six or eight garlic segments.
Chop cilantro to make 1/8 cup.
Chop 6-8 large tomatillos

Get 1/8” of olive oil hot in the pan. High flame.
Wilt the onion and garlic, stir don’t burn.
Toss the meat cubes with the wilted onions and garlic.
Season with salt, pepper, ground comino or a pinch of seed.
Brown.
Add the chopped tomatillos and chopped fresh/canned chiles, and the can or two of el pato.
Stir and cover.
Lower heat to medium and bring to a boil.
Lower heat to lowest simmer setting and cook for an hour, stirring now and again.

This is ready to serve right away. The objective to fork-tender bits of meat that look like meat, not a paste. Cook vegetable longer before adding chicken, then simmer raw chicken fifteen or twenty minutes until firm. Chicken is fast. Cook beef an hour and a quarter, maybe longer.


Bisbee Late-breaking News!


Bisbee Friday evening January 18 at 7:30 pm.
Title: "1968: From Yellow Submarine to the My Lai Massacre."
Place: Bisbee, at The Royale on Main street.
Make a Cochise County weekend of it!

Monday, January 14, 2019

Diplopia



A short story by Daniel A. Olivas

            The classroom’s florescent lights and afternoon sun seemed to converge directly at Alisa’s eyes.  She knew that her headache would quickly morph into a full-blown migraine and she needed to do something soon otherwise her twenty-seven fourth graders would be grossly entertained by their teacher’s violent vomiting into the nearest receptacle.  Alisa wanted nothing more than to close her eyes and rest in a quiet room.  Just for a minute or two.
            “Skylar,” she said to a red-headed boy in the front row.
            “Yes, Ms. Varela,” said Skylar in a voice that was almost too eager for Alisa to take but she needed him desperately at that moment.
            Alisa pulled a paperback book from her desk drawer.  “I have to make a phone call.  Would you mind reading from the Trumpet of the Swan for a few minutes?”
            Skylar wriggled in his seat.  “To the class?” he asked.  The other students giggled.
            “Yes,” she said.  “To the class.”  Alisa opened the book and handed it to the boy.  “We’re at chapter fifteen.  You can sit at my desk.”
            Skylar couldn’t believe his luck.  He leapt to his feet and was at Alisa’s chair before she could get to the door.
            “Behave, children,” Alisa said as she left feeling unable to control her now convulsing stomach.  She barely made it to the faculty bathroom.
                                                            *                      *                      *
            Today was going to be the day Alisa reentered her life.  Dr. Ramos had been very clear about it: in a day or two after the surgery, Alisa could jump right into the things she always enjoyed doing with only a few precautions.  The doctor told his anxious patient to rest her eyes when they got tired, use the antibiotic drops three times a day and not to lift heavy objects for about a week or so.  But it had already been ten days since the surgery and she barely could drag herself to work.  The whites of Alisa’s eyes were awash in blood, much to the entertainment of her students, and the stitches pulled and irritated every second she was awake.  The constant low grade fever didn’t help matters much.  Yes, the surgery had apparently restored Alisa’s “ocular alignment” but they wouldn’t know for sure until more time had passed.
            “This is usually done on infants,” Dr. Ramos had said.  Alisa remembered how the doctor’s head was simply too big for his almost petite body.  But his face was of a TV doctor: empathy almost bled from his pores, his temples sported just the right amount of gray, and he had perfected looking over his black-rimmed reading glasses in such a way that Alisa could only feel safe, protected.
            “And?” she had responded.
            “And so we have to be careful with adults.  But I see no reason for you to restrict your activities other than not lifting heavy objects for one or two weeks.”  At this point, Dr. Ramos had lowered his head, lifted his eyebrows, and peered kindly over his reading glasses.  “All will be fine.”
            But there was still no explanation as to why Alisa’s left eye decided to turn in toward her nose after the retinal surgery two years ago.  “The strambismus is not related to the retinal repair, as far as I can tell,” Dr. Ramos had said.  “You just had a propensity for it, let us say.”
            The only comfort was that Alisa knew she had to have the surgery to reverse the diplopia.  There was no other option.  The double vision had intruded more and more into her life, and driving became a fretful activity.  Twice already she had to pull over to rest her eyes before getting back into city traffic.  And little activities sometimes became difficult.  More than once a cashier held out change and Alisa had trouble putting her hand in the right place to receive the money.  She remembered how one cashier looked at her as though alcohol or illicit drugs were the culprit.
            Friday, after class, Alisa had planned a wonderful day with Emilio and Greg, her favorite couple.  First, they were going to browse at the Alexander Book Co. and then wander over to Dolby Chadwick on Post to look at some new Kanevsky paintings.  And the Meyerovich Gallery was within walking distance from there.  Then maybe a nice dinner on the Embarcadero.  A perfect afternoon and evening with two good friends.  But as she pressed the cool, wet washcloth on her eyes and enjoyed the near silence of the faculty lounge, Alisa couldn’t imagine looking at anything let alone books and paintings.  Keeping her eyes covered, she reached into her purse, found her cell phone, and speed dialed Emilio.
            “Talk to me,” came his voice, too loud but very welcome to her ears.
            “I feel really crappy,” Alisa barely got out.
            “Mija,” said Emilio in a softer voice.  “Do you need me to get you to the doctor’s?”
            Always available for me, Alisa thought.  Always there.
            “No,” she almost whispered.  “No.  But I think I need to cancel.  Sorry.”
            Alisa could hear workers banging away at something in the background.  Emilio was supervising a remodel that was proving to be as painful as it was lucrative.  But in this economy, he said he couldn’t complain.  A remodel in San Francisco meant money.  Good money.
            “No, mija, you can’t cancel completely.  We can do something else.  Something easy on the eyes.”
            “Like what?”
            “You can watch me and Greg make out.”
            Alisa laughed.  “Oh, then I’d just get hot and bothered and then what would I do?”
            “Hey, I’m just your friend,” said Emilio over the ever-growing construction din.  “I don’t mind getting your motor running, but you need to find your own action, mija.”
            “I feel like I’m living an R-rated version of Will and Grace.”
            “You are, mija.  But without the residuals.”
                                                *                      *                      *
            Whenever Alisa entered the world of Emilio and Greg, she felt intensely inadequate and quite impoverished.  True, she owned her own home while her friends merely leased.  But Alisa’s house was nothing more than an unoriginal cracker box in Daley City, inherited from her mother and father, while the boys lived in the City itself.  Emilio and Greg existed in style, the kind Alisa only saw in home furnishing magazines and made her drool and feel as envious as she could ever feel about anything.  Alisa still furnished her home like a dorm room relying heavily on IKEA or, if she splurged, Pottery Barn.  The boys’ apartment, on the other hand, not only had a view of the Bay, but looked as though it was lifted from the pages of Metropolitan Home.  Their Paola Lenti chaise cost more than her entire bedroom set, mattress included.  But she couldn’t complain.  They were the happiest people she knew and Alisa felt free and at home in the boys’ apartment.
            “Sweet Jesus!” said Greg as he opened the door.  “You look like something from an old Vincent Price movie.”
            “I need a drink,” said Alisa as she hugged Greg.  “And thank you for making a girl feel so special.”
            “I’m sorry.  Emilio said you looked pretty bad but I had no idea.”
            Alisa pulled back.  “You just keep on charming me, don’t you?
            Greg closed the door.  “I’m an idiot.”
            “Yes.”
            “Drink?”
            “Just like I asked.”
            Greg took Alisa’s jacket and ushered her in.  “We’ll begin with martinis and then move to wine with dinner.”
            “Heaven.  Where’s Emilio?”
            “In the kitchen, of course.  Where I like my men.”
            “Pregnant and barefoot.”
            Greg laughed as he walked to the bar.  “At least barefoot.  Go say hi to him.”
            “Need drink now.”
            “Need drink now?”
            “Must have drink.”
            “You sound like Superman under the influence of kryptomite.”
            “Sí.”
            Greg mixed the martini and poured a generous amount in a chilled glass.  “Olive?”
            “Two.”
            “That’s my girl.”
            He handed Alisa the drink and then narrowed his eyes.
            “What now?” said Alisa.
            “You don’t really look that bad.”
            “Thanks.”
            “What is it?  Something about you?”
            Alisa took a sip of her martini and let out a little ah.  “Well, for starters, I’m not wearing eye makeup.”
            “Yes!  That’s it!”
            “And, to top it off, I’m not wearing my contacts.”
            “Right.”
            “So I’m four-eyed tonight just for you.”
            “Cute glasses, though.”  Greg poured himself a drink and tasted it carefully.  “Perfect.”
            “Yes, wonderful bartender.  I need to give you a big tip.”
            As the words left her lips, two arms slid around her waist.  Greg smiled as Emilio pulled Alisa in tight from behind.
            “Mija,” he whispered into her ear.  “How are you?”
            Alisa closed her eyes and enjoyed the hug.  “I feel like crap, sweetie,” she said.  “Really lousy.”
            Emilio kissed Alisa’s hair.  “Dinner is ready,” he said.
            “And I look like a goon.”
            Emilio turned Alisa around.  “Not so bad.”
            “Yeah, right.”
            “Let’s eat,” said Emilio.  “Some good food, some nice wine, and you’ll be good as new.”
            Alisa put her head on Emilio’s chest.  “Oh, sweetie, I love you so much.”
            “And I love you.”
            Greg took another sip of his martini.  “Maybe I should leave you two alone,” he laughed.
            “Come on,” said Emilio.  “Vamos a comer.”
                                                            *                      *                      *
            Alisa was not surprised that the food was perfect, per usual with the boys.  And the wine followed the martini with ease.  Emilio and Greg chatted, laughed, teased and smiled.  Alisa needed this support.  The surgery was far from pleasant but it had triggered something in her that she seldom felt: an acknowledgment that she was nothing more than human and that some day, she will notice that her body, bit by bit, needed repair.  Then one morning, she will look in the mirror and see a very old woman staring back.  And this made Alisa shiver.  But she dare not mention it to these two friends who had seen more than their share of young men, and a few women, get sick, wither and then die too early.  She needed to buck up.  It could be worse.  A few decades ago, she would have been blind in one eye with a retina that could not be repaired.  Alisa was ahead of the game.  She would heal, in due time.  Though here she was almost thirty, married once for only a year to a very vicious man, and divorced before she turned twenty-one, she still was relatively young with a chance at happiness.  But her time on earth was slipping away, disappearing with each new crop of students, each parent-teacher meeting with people who didn’t realize how lucky they were to have a child.
            “Oh!” said Emilio.  “Listen!”
            They all stopped chatting and simultaneously tilted their heads up to hear the song that just came on the radio.
            “Who is that?” said Greg.
            “How could you not know?” said Emilio.
            “Sorry.”
            “No sex for you tonight.”
            Alisa laughed.  “Yikes!  I’d hate to find out how you punish Greg for bigger infractions.”
            “Oh,” said Greg.  “Emilio has a whole chart he follows.”
            “God, this is a great song,” said Emilio.
            Alisa took a sip of wine.  Tower of Power,” she said as she started to sway to the melody.
            “Yes!” said Emilio.
            “You’re Still a Young Man,” she concluded with a triumphant nod.
            “Sí, mija,” said Emilio.  “You win.  You get sex tonight!”
            “Oh goody,” said Alisa.
            Greg let out a snort.  “I should test you on house music and see how you do.”
            Alisa touched her forehead and closed her eyes.
            “What is it?” said Emilio.  “Too much wine?”
            “Too much Emilio?” asked Greg.
            Alisa took a big breath almost gulping air down.  “No.  My migraine is coming back.  I don’t feel so great.”
            “Need to barf?” asked Emilio.
            “I hope not.”
            “Lie down?” asked Greg.
            “Please.  I’m so sorry.  I’m such a dope.”
            Emilio stood up and put his hands on Alisa’s shoulders.  “No, mija.  Don’t worry.  Come with me.”
                                                *                      *                      *
            Alisa slept through the night in her friends’ guest room.  She tumbled in and out of dreams that were not as vivid as her dreams usually were.  Alisa’s dreams this night were muffled, blurry, black-and-white, with no sound.  It was as if her now limited sense of sight dulled even her sleep vision.  She could sense her mother, that was certain, and a little of her father.  But one sense was clear: she felt very alone.  How she ended up this way seemed to be the theme of her dreams this night.  Yes, her parents had both died, first Alisa’s father, and then more recently her mother.  Alisa’s husband was forced to stay away by the justice system.  And her female friends married one by one and started spitting out children which, of course, made socializing with them that much more difficult.  Even when some of her friends divorced, they had a baby or two to stave off loneliness.  At least that’s what it looked like to Alisa.  Relief from these dreams finally came with the smell of coffee and the glare of morning sun.
            “Mija,” said Emilio as he kissed Alisa’s forehead.  “How do you feel?”
            She kept her eyes closed and reached for Emilio’s unshaven face.
            “Sandpaper.”
            “Si, mija.  Just got up and made breakfast.  Have some coffee.”  He guided Alisa’s hand to the warm mug.  “Have a sip.”
            She obeyed and let out a deep sigh that comes with the morning’s first taste of coffee.
            Alisa slowly opened her eyes and then blinked several times.  She tried to focus on the mug which had a photograph of a sleek Weimaraner emblazoned across it in honor of Emilio’s late dog, Inca.
            “You’ve expected too much of yourself,” said Emilio.  “You’re only human, you know.”
            Once Alisa focused on the perfect gray canine face, she turned to Emilio.  She blinked hard again because this shift of subject proved to be more difficult than Alisa expected.  She closed her eyes for a second, breathed in the coffee’s aroma, and then opened her eyes very carefully as if they would roll out of her head if she weren’t careful.
            “Are you all right?” asked Emilio.
            Alisa blinked one more time.  The two Emilios slowly came together into one.  The one she knew so well.  The one who was her best friend.  The one she loved more than anyone in her life.
            “Si, mi cielo,” Alisa said.  “I’m all right.”
            Emilio caressed her cheek and smiled.  “Sure?”
            Alisa took another sip of coffee and looked away.  “Of course,” she said.  “I’ve never been better.”
[“Diplopia” is featured in Anywhere But L.A.: Stories (Bilingual Press).]