Thursday, April 02, 2020

Dirty Blankets

   Note: I had planned on continuing the next chapters of my novel, but as I shopped for hard-to-find items at Northgate Market and looked at the people around me, this story came to me. It is a work of fiction. Any resemblances to people alive or dead is a coincidence.                                                                            
    Med Men’s prices were steep, and the Mayan MJ Mfrs. had closed down during the crisis, something about unauthorized licensing, and I needed a good night’s sleep, what with all the bad news in the media.
     A friend told me to try Satiro’s Sin Semilla on Slauson, just off Braddock, west side, 1313, near the Projects, straddling the L.A.--Culver City border, always a geographic puzzle for the local gang, having to choose between the two municipalities, causing shifting loyalties, so the guys called themselves La Chiva.
     This was years before anybody ever heard of Guadalajara’s soccer team, a sport unknown to most Westside kids in those days when Pop Warner football reigned supreme. To add to the confusion, many Mexican families settling in Culver City were transplants from Sotel [considered a quasi barrio, due to its close proximity to Westwood and UCLA] having to move when the freeway tore through the heart of the neighborhood.
     I hadn’t been down to the Projects in years, but, as I said, I was desperate for sleep, hence, my authorization for a medical marijuana card.
     Satiro’s is located in a granny pad on top of a garage behind Siriaco Ortega’s two-bedroom home. My friend told me I couldn’t miss it, to just look for the house with the biggest nopal out front, and to not use the word “cannibus.” Satiro hated it, no fancy names for his product, just plain old “weed”, nickel and dime bags, like the old days, except a “nickel” meant fifty bucks and a “dime” meant a-hundred.
     When I asked my friend if Satiro had anything for sleep, aches and pains, anxiety, stomach problems, muscle relaxants, my friend looked at me funny. “No, man. It just gets you loaded.”
     When I arrived, I lined up in the driveway behind two other guys. That’s when I heard the upstairs window open. A man wearing an n-95 facemask and a shaved head popped his head out. “Hey! Give me some social-distancing down there. Six-feet, and don’t make me have to say it again.”
     Like kids following orders, the three of us put some space between us.
     The first guy in line said he came here because there’s less chance catching “the bug,” and he kept calling it "the bug." He was one of those guys who talked even if no one was listening. He said, “I used to go to a place up on Wilshire, Med Max and another place in Santa Monica, Medi-Wana, places folks with money go cuz those places get the best stuff. But it's those people that's carrying the bug and passing it on.”
     “What about the people down here?” the other guy asked, backing up a foot to keep the six-foot distance..
     “Naw. People here don’t travel, bro’, so it’s safer. That’s why I’m here. I got it all figured out.”
     He kept on like we were old friends. “The paper says highest corona outbreaks are Brentwood, Beverly Hills, Westwood, the Palisades, and West Hollywood, rich people, the ones who take ocean cruises and fly everywhere for work, New York, China, like that. Now, they're even passing it on to their nannies and gardeners. Still, dude, until this blows-over, I’m hanging down here in the ghetto. Since the feds talked about the Wall, people down here been quarantining longer than anybody else.”
     The guy in front of me said, “Yeah, but this ain’t the ghetto, anymore, not with those new condos across the street. Betcha Siriaco could get a mil for his pad, easy, maybe a mil-two. This neighborhood is changing--fast, gentrifiers.”
     Just then a young woman wearing a Villanova sweatshirt and tight shorts jogged by, her perky blonde ponytail swinging under a black Pirates’ baseball cap. She was pushing two kids in a high-tech, double-seat stroller, followed by a red Irish setter on a leash. The guy talking said, “See what I mean.”
     The first guy starts again. “I used to shop at Whole Foods for their 365 Value Brand, and Trader Joe’s, good fresh fruits, vegetables, and quality Trail Mix, but no more. Heard some poor grocery clerk caught the bug at Pavilion's, get my point? I'm telling you, the people who shop there are carrying the bug—rich people, mask or no mask. They travel, bring it back here, and pass it on to the rest of us. I loved the meats at Gelson's. No more.”
     The other guy said, “Yeah, like the cavalry giving dirty blankets to the Indians. Hmm, makes sense.”
     “Damn right it does. I’m hanging out down here. I used to shop at Gonzalez’s, over on Centinela, ‘til they changed the name to Northgate."
     I knew he meant Inglewood, but I didn't want to mess up his flow.
     "Now you got people from the Marina all up and down the aisles, like they own the place. I found everything I need at Anacleto’s Abarrotes over on Inglewood and Wagner, down the street from El Abajeno, even had toilet paper, last rolls. You want some killer Chimichangas try Chiriaco Chiflotes' over on Centinela and Short Avenue, near where the sporting goods used to be, you know, where Mago's was.”
     He kept on, like we were taking notes, “Panfilo Miraflores' Birria, in Inglewood, Tomasino’s Tacomasos in Hawthorne, Caramelo’s Carnisima Carnitas on Crenshaw and 119th.”
     Upstairs, the window opened again. The bald-headed, masked-man looked out, his voice a little muffled. “All right,” he said, “just checking.” He closed the window.
     I asked, “How about burritos?”
     He didn't even flinch, “No place like Bobby Malacara's Burrisotas on Victoria, east of Redondo Blvd, in Gardena., except, you know, now they're all to-go only. Best to call your order in advance.”
     “You still live in the neighborhood?” It was the second guy in line asking.
     “Naw, man, moved out in the nineties, after I got my degree at Dominguez Hills, houses a lot cheaper in Torrance, bought a ranch-style house with a pool.”
     “Why don’t you shop out there?”
     “Too much ethnic-blending, bro’, even in Hawthorne and Lawndale, too many people with expendable income and names like Brandi Aguilar or Ferguson Machado. I'm suspicious of everything, so I make it back here whenever I can. My wife and kids think I'm a nut.”
     “What if you bring the bug here?”
     He looked perplexed.
     “You mean like I’m passing out dirty blankets?”
     The second guy raised his eyebrows. "It's possible."
     "I'm into software, man, been working from home before all this started."
     That’s when two girls and a guy carrying little brown bags and wearing cheap facemasks came down the stairs, and Satiro called, “Three more. But nobody comes in without a facemask. I'm giving 'em away with each lid you buy.”
     Behind us, a gaggle of people came up the driveway. Satiro shouted, pulling down his mask, “Only three at a time, man! Back up. Six-feet apart, no joke,” and replaced his mask, quickly.
     One of the new guys said, “Hey, Sati, you still open ‘til midnight?”
     Satiro answered like the guy had said something dumb. “Why do you think I tacked that sign up on the garage door. Limited hours, only--until four, no exceptions. I'm not taking any chances.”
     I checked my watch. It was 3:35.

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