Sweat was as Pa as the uniform Ma needed spread a sheet over, nights when attempts to wake him off the couch would’ve done little more than rouse a snore. You watched his sideburn bristle drip into a pour when an envelope took to his hands; beads perspiring from the nose as he went through shirts like cuchifrito does a brown paper bag.
Nobody racked up time and a half like that man; not a police officer, no fireman, nor anyone in sanitation, much less any of his co-workers in the Emergency Medical Service. Which is probably why he received so much love, as manifested per barbecue and pool party we were invited to attend when Pa wasn’t covering someone else’s weekend. Navy blue up, navy blue down everywhere we went; patches and the badge. If your name wasn’t Don Mattingly, no one in this city could say they knew you to hustle more doubles than Resto!
It remained to be seen whether I inherited that same work ethic upon being offered a cut for every job I tagged along to lend a hand with. After two decades which saw them maintain the kind of camaraderie withstanding every Giordano promotion that set hierarchy between the two, and every Giordano transfer Pa felt pressure to follow, Giordano and Pa went into business together behind his longtime partner’s lead for side-income doing home renovations. Giordano had the van, Giordano had the plan: he provided the tools he promoted the service he secured the contracts. Pa covered the labor, which would’ve provided me opportunity to earn money for school books while holding onto one last season of sandlot baseball; and did… until it didn’t.
I never told him why I began to resist, and eventually, ceased lacing up boots all together that summer. Were it not for the game he saw slash and burn prospects of delinquency, to a future in his boy’s eye, my abled body would’ve had no alternative but to try my newly minted diploma from the get; believe you-me, there wasn’t a request Pa didn’t begin and end a response to with “MORTGAGE” and “CAR PAYMENT!” So it had to be to the dismayed welling of his own defeat, that despite Pa’s faith in me, I’d eventually turn down his proposal to split earnings for the sake of sparing me some 9 to 5 that might impede on practice. And it was in a sort of melancholy, projecting to be gracious humility, that I would sooner settle on a fulltime at The Nathan Boardwalk than seek the old man’s recourse.
Save for having to swallow a little sarcasm on my supposed golden arm’s supposed struggle to sand a wall, my decision didn’t draw the kind of reaction I had braced myself for. Of’course news of the Nathan hiring relieved me of ‘the real world’ speech on his 70 hour work week.. and he did gave off as if convinced I’d keep my promise to continue grinding toward our dream. Such absence of disappointment at any prior juncture would’ve shown passage for me to whistle off clean;
Stopped, whether by the stoicism contrasting such usual eccentricities as his ever-wincing forehead or how he’d normally clamp his lips curled into his teeth; …or by something more intuitive than the reading his pensive face gave off in its concentration, there was something it seemed, even he felt left to be complete between us.
At second glance I’m at a loss to explain
the space in which I found myself, between
offering up a hug and venting.
Pa had sacrificed for us too willfully to be exposed to the heart of my wallowing; the intensity of those veins and snapping tendons proving harder to detach from than I could have conceived. To think; how the bills reflecting off the ol’ specs bridged before him bound those providing hands to so demeaning a keep, so obsequiously. I have to believe he was uneasy as I, hearing what one the other heard, as we worked through the bigotry inundating from Giordano’s shadow the morning that would deter me from returning. Then again he’d survived nearly half of his life smiling through the shame, absorbing a word his son was just learning the pain of.
Throughout childhood, SPIC, whizzed me by in cacophony with MAMI, TE SIRVO, GRAHAM AVE, LANI!, LET’S CUT THE SHIT, WE’RE FAMILY, THE HIPOCRACY, JACK!, DON’T INTERRUPT ME LET ME SPEAK, DIME CON QUIEN ANDAS Y TE DIRE QUIEN ERES, PHILIP!, UNBEKNOWNST TO ME, DINKIN’, CLARO QUE SI, SAM! and IT’S SAD IT REALLY IS… Especially Saturday nights, when receiving a guest meant the bottle of soda erecting from a spread of Bacardi| seltzer| Tanqueray| and gin was off limits; those of us who’d long built tolerance to a drunken thumb ‘cross the gums testing the hour of company in our own irritable right, Saturday night!
For a time I couldn’t tell it different from any word that wasn’t my name, except that I can’t recall having traced it to a voice other than that of Uncle Ray’s. When I came upon it’s implication of disdain per the darting force with which he pinned it to neighborhood names that never came up favorably, nothing of its nature notioned it could pertain to me. Spic, was a lazy ignorant drug addict who lived off welfare, but back then it wasn’t Puerto Rican. According to Ray it was Carmen flopping a stroller forth with her knotty headed boys straggling shirtless behind. But it wasn’t referred to Rosa, who wore the same chancletas when she got home and out of her blazer to walk Tito; not usually at least, not unless she in some way gave him the inclination that she thought she was better, needed to be brought back down to earth. Such ambiguity might explain why it would be years before I found myself processing those four letters relative to my own identity. (Everyone owned a brown pair of slippers lettering the gold Puerto Rico!)
Back then people were people. It was a time enriched by naiveté when a child’s bliss was safe. We played until it was time to eat then were off again after we ate. Taught it our business to keep out of grown folk’ conversations I was trained on being seen, not heard. Thus, my listening had adapted to assume a like distance. For if ever I, stampeding in line past a powwow of elders or swarming in and out a pile of sibling limbs, were pulled to that chat in the kitchen it was when “T O N Y!” hollered out on mother’s whim.
As a seventeen year old elbow resting a palm full of chin, or lollygagging behind, from the ride to home depot < home depot back to the ride for our sheetrock stripped destination, it was no different. Unless I was present to a mention specific to me, nothing exchanged in Pa-and-Giordano’s discussion drew me aware to it. The same uncompromising trust my face gave the wind trailing passing scene; that music behind my eyes facilitated from hammer to nail I glanced between; was the trust my red light green light 1, 2, 3’s held, uncompromised by noise screaming from the kitchen back in my young’n day.
There was however, that time and again
in which tensions flared on the drink and a counter slammed,
shouting slanted our attention still to it, and
You grow on to the grapple and roll of wrestle-mania from the cowboys and Indians chase. Then you learn roughhousing earned you a spot on front of the living room television glowing Sabado Gigante when things got carried away. Didn’t take forever to develop a rapport on how to avoid repercussions of hyperactivity, with a period in which G.I. Joe became the rave half decade before we sedated on video games. Passivity however is another thing, especially amongst a community in which it could be viewed as weak. After all, stores selling us Desert Storm Cards to trade during the first invasion of Iraq probably didn’t do as much to tame us as they did to engage us in war. No doubt it pissed our parents off that a transition to figurines wouldn’t eradicate the havoc to be raised. …Makes me want to go back and lift a mirror to show them who we were the children of; STOPPP STUPID!, INDIAN GIVER!, LEAVE ME ALONE!, and HE STUCK HIS MIDDLE FINGER AT ME!, caroming off the walls.
Soon as the day came Ma lit up to Pa divulging Giordano’s arrangement for us to go see a home, things were bound to change. That mammoth edifice of the old Brooklyn Army Terminal stood in the way of the harbor, across which sprawled suburban pastures to which we couldn’t imagine conforming our ways. Not that Ma ever pictured us doing so might resemble the manner she frightenly observed children behave during yearly visits to their cul-de-sac for Giordano’s son’s birthday; but that she had us speeched to an impeccable posture, in the balance of which hung privileges and a possible whooping dare we embarrass our father.
Days went by months gone by years past, and nowhere near as long had my refined demeanor come to lasting the guidette cadence Ma adopted an awkward variation of; not nearly as wide as that of my PRAP (Puerto Rican American Princess) knighted sister, had my own Staten Island circle grown; nowhere close to as high had I ever come to imagine our becoming selves, above the selves I looked back on leaving, as brother had, on a past he looked down on being. There must have been something resisting any like-allowance to succumb to the numbness my family seemed to embrace in overcoming our confronting transition.
Suddenly I was dealing with a heartbeat which had been chased before, but never through the terror of a plight unfamiliar as the wilderness to an urban animal. The weight of whatever collective adaptation we generated to repress idiosyncrasies within family at home, within our peers of the Spanish congregation at church, amongst classmates pooled at the lunch table end dominated by the accent of our lips, hair and shade; became the suppression of impulses discouraged from rising with the pride of our rooted heritage.
We had derived from a place from which I recall a scrap between biological sisters being triggered by one’s reference to the other as a “five dollar hoe”; where we arrived at school every morning prepared to fight for our sneakers; glance at the wrong person the wrong way and you could find yourself cradling your skull on the concrete. Now we were being muscled around by eyes on the bus, stalled on by the doctor and rushed by the deli clerk; observing our parents pussyfoot around signs that our youngest siblings were being singled out and spoken at in a tone adults reserve for other adults. …I had never felt so low.
There I knelt, knee deep in a rising tide of rage. Reaction to insult had always begged a practice in restraint. Here I faced a turbulence quivering deep in my soul, battling in question as to whether I’d be able to regain cognizance of the sunlight beaming into the patio and the smell of paint overwhelmed in the tension consuming me. I sooner became afraid I might not be able to stand up straight, than I had become of potentially confronting a man a quarter century my senior. Thwarted to the ashen planks of my surrounding I’d be missing the mark if I characterize myself having been beside myself – I was so beneath myself.
I had been in the way of that laugh before, now I was at its opposite end; I had accompanied Giordano’s eyes in mine, this time I kept them back from forcing their way in. Way down binaural drone-deep in double vision, a mirage of references dotting select experiences from my rearing to the moment, framed me pit between a double consciousness that summer Saturday morning…
One which set my soul into mourning while it sang to the sky. Looking back, that’s got to be the day, I killed my master. And the spic, began to die.
– Tone.Are (A Genesis of Brown__ work in progress/ chapter 1)