Smokes and Honeybuns

Funny how simple triggers call to mind a hailstorm of memory. Four decades according to my birth certificate have more than passed, and my mother from miles away sends me a care package. Among the items a hostess honey bun. I need not make mention of the significance of this beyond memory, being that hostess is the Lazarus of snack cakes. Without pause I quickly slap it in the microwave for 15 seconds and eat it. This was the single most purpose for a microwave if you were well to do enough to have one. There were no fresh baked cookies, or popcorn strings on Christmas trees. Television made for a disconnected life seeing people in homes with fireplaces and rooms littered with stuff. All I had come to know was apartment living on a coast where the seasons all bleed into two. When it’s smoggy out, and when it’s raining. On occasion perhaps a need to turn on the dusty electric space heater that crackled like some wakening demon long forgotten. I can still smell the familiar dust burn as compelling as a Little Debbie snack cake when you just want real chocolate.

Among the string of my earliest memories, are those of taking handwritten notes from my momma to the corner liquor store. Always to the effect or some tangent of; oh I’m bedridden, I’m sick with the consumption, please let my young courier handle transport of your finest menthol laden tobacco with the utmost vim and vigor. In my neighborhood the liquor store was a convenience store, or more of a celebration of diversity in products market. The original co-op if I may stake the claim. You get some products and promise to pay at some later date. Sounds like cooperation to me. The style of store that had protocols in order to gain access. All of which is common sensical of course.  Avoid eye contact, don’t talk to strangers, let alone the people hanging out by the store, if there’s trouble run, and most of all get in, and get out before accused of shop lifting; to name a few. Far and away from the flights of fancy I recall on early television in which people actually brought milk to houses. At any rate this mission was commonplace and achievable; get my mother some smokes. Knowing how to carry oneself as to not to show weakness to others looking for malfeasance was a necessity, even if I was a littlun. If I performed my mission well I’d be able to get myself some candy and put it on the tab at the store.

My mother worked hard and my dad left when I turned nine which made for long stretches of loneliness when on two month vacations from school (LAUSD with a track system look it up). When not picking up smokes, I’d tinker with a type writer, watch television, or talk to my only pet as I lapped up cereal from a mixing bowl laden with cold coffee. A vibrant and almost life like oil painting of a lion I called my pet, my confidant. Later in my pre-teen years my mother would throw him away which at the time was painful, but in retrospect it was perhaps a lesson. My own mandala from which to learn that nothing is permanent. A lesson that would resurface time and again. I can count at least two more of significance; the time I thought I became a man, and that time when my city burned, and my crossroads realized.

In the years my dad was around, he’d work out, party, and tell me how I was supposed to be a man. While the rain fall of memories may leave me damp, they oft have no discernible sequence in their descent. The hours watching from afar as dad obsessed over the perfectly coiffed afro. The Rocky Balboa era cement benchpress set which sat in my room, used solely for getting the pectorals just right for disco dancing. The shadow boxing that once erupted into dad smashing a hole in the wall after discovering I knocked out a tooth at school playing slaughterhouse (a form of handball). He was a decent enough man, but to sum it up he was there and he wasn’t, much like the broken down car he had that sat in the apartment garage like a relic with the tomb of forgotten car maintenance. I recall that when he left so did my own room, my inherited chest building equipment, and a nice collection of hair picks and brut33. I can’t say with distinction if I wept when he left. I like to think I adopted a lesson echoed in both manhood and an antiquated deodorant commercial, “Never let them see you sweat”. I’d later revamp the idiom into; ‘Don’t let those who wish to push your buttons see where your controls are’.

In the defense of my parental units, they were young and well mom was always working. Dad always studying and sometimes working. I was small, burdensome, and well had to earn my keep but that’s for another time. For another telling I will speak on my grandparents who were also instrumental in the fact that I’m still alive. One couple over promised and never delivered, while the other set over delivered to the point they never needed to promise a thing, but more on that another time. As for dad, oddly my favorite dad times were the long walks (like miles if only two blocks) to the nearest grocery store, when we had money for such things. A considerable upgrade to the convenience store, this was a market (actually think it was called Market Basket) it had everything from meat to sneakers. Far superior than shame walking into seemingly random garages to be handed a box of powdered milk, blocks of cheese, and the tasty array of government provided foods. Shopping felt as if we made it and were a part of society. Besides I didn’t have to remember to say Benson and Hedges Deluxe Ultra Light menthol to the store clerk. Now I didn’t care for the walk home carrying the grocery bags, but as dad would say it was a good workout. In later years having money or not, going to stores became a pastime. There was so little to do as a family that required no money, and well my family wasn’t really into the city park. Except for dad, he’d go for handball and basketball as I would hide under a fake tank and contemplate the universe. On the times I felt risky I’d traverse the tetanus ridden three story rocket ship, and feel it teeter from side to side whilst watching the view of trees and electrical towers. However to walk through stores with family in tow, and dream of having stuff, well that was the American dream was it not. On television if there was a staircase in your home, and a knick knack at every corner you had made it. Here we dream, but in retrospect I like to think it was another lesson. Learning the difference between want and need in a world diluted and absorbed with consumption. That lesson of illusory happiness would come later.

I grew up as a poor Hispanic in southern California. Apartment living throughout my life in arguably gang land Merica. My father left when I was nine, and even though I was considered slow and quiet. I would like to think of myself simply a silent observer, learning and dreaming. Besides if your parents dressed you up in butterfly colors and told you to dance like little Michael Jackson at parties, you’d be pretty quiet too. I was a minority by America’s standard but where I lived, me and mine never felt as such. White people were for the most part only seen on television, leading lives quite alien from my own. However not much was missed since within our neighborhood we had hatred of our own. Racism between Mexicans, Puerto-Ricans, and other brown folk depending upon what island or country you came from. In the midst, my upbringing even brought a hatred of people if you were from the wrong street or wore the wrong color clothing.

In today’s age such things would be considered atrocious, but in my time they were just factors of growing up. Variables in an equation that if you were steadfast in you goals would produce a stronger, wiser citizen. Labels, categories, and judgement have always been there as constant as the sun. However to let such things guide you has never settled right with me. Now a days I rather there be no labels, but with that embrace judgement since inclusion never begins when tirelessly trying to put everyone and everything into separate boxes. Given my young age I could say I’ve seen and heard much, from the careful routes to school, to the occasional scuffle on the way from school being asked what sect I was in. Even being called an oreo or coconut for my quick grasp of both languages. Heck some days I’m stricken with fear when I see a cop cause of memories one can’t forget. Ah memories with their power to compel oneself into the inner recesses of the emotional. Like the initial shock of a soft and warm hand, running down the small of your back. Attention and senses to the distraction at the full, then well you just never know where it’ll go.

In defense of being slow (I learned to tie my shoes at a late age), I will say that I was considered a good citizen in elementary school. Had my pic on a badge, and even had privileged access to special lunch tables under a tree that smelled like ass. After a stint in second grade in which the teacher neglected to tell me the spelling book distributed was the year’s curriculum, I finished it in a week and landed myself in a test for the gifted. The exam seemed one befitting something from another world with hours spent on moving shapes around, by hand not by mind. For sake of posterity just as I write these seemingly endless musings I was also labeled as gifted. However I see it more of “gotta give these poor kids something” kind of moniker. This littlun was even on the student counsel, which in those days meant I was a hall monitor with the added bonus of taking down the flag at the end of the day. The latter task being one I took with great pride. Eat that boy scouts who wouldn’t take me. All in all though , in spite of the labels and trespasses good and bad, my dear mother will always remember me as the one who proposed to a girl in kindergarten. Without diving too deep into that first blow to my ego (the marriage was cancelled obviously),  I’ll always be the slow boy in the sandbox who tried to make bella his smokin honeybun.

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