When you get on, he leave yo ass for a white girl

Strange happenings in the deep southwest, this last Tuesday

“I’m not saying she hasn’t been in good movies.”
“You’re damn right you’re not.”
My Cousin Vinny is a damn triumph, ‘da two youts’ and all that. Very memorable.”
“You’re damn right.”
“What I’m saying is, they weren’t good because she was in them. She’s a null, completely superfluous. Even a little obnoxious.”
“You watch your gringo mouth, son, you watch it close.”

Julio was staring me down. Trying to, at least. Confrontation, from a sitting position, is nearly impossible. So much of it relies on subtle body language, subconscious ape movements and all that, but though Julio was obviously very passionate about the subject, his passion obviously didn’t run deep enough for him to actually stand up to threaten me.

After a moment, his anger apparently subsided and he slumped back against the dirty white wall. I sat on the little cement parking bumper, elbows on my knees.

“She’s very very beautiful. Better than others, you know, her type. I would marry her if she was here.” He said.
“I’m sure she’s already married.”
“Thas true. But if she wasn’t and she was here… I’d marry her for sure. She’s a sweet woman, very sweet.”

This was too much. That distant, unfocused look in his eyes. Julio, please.

“Julio, please. You can’t be serious. She’s the fucking Mexican Fran Drescher.”
“ROSIE IS NOT THE MEXICAN FRAN DRESCHER.” He shouted.

He looked away defiantly, like an angry child. The subject, apparently, was closed.

“And my name ain’t Julio.”
“It says Julio on your shirt.”

“Says fucking ADIDAS on your shirt, what’s your point?”
“No need to get hostile. Let’s put this Rosie Perez business behind us and start fresh.”
“Ok.” Not Julio said. He was amiable enough. Certainly bored enough.

“My name’s Vicente, Julio’s my brother and I’m covering for him. Because he had to go to some family counseling shit the judge said he had to do or some thing, in Tempe. This ain’t my real job.”
He pointed at the Texaco sign spinning up above us in the morning sun. It was getting hotter by the minute. We sat in the shade behind the mini mart, next to the free air pump. It was broken.

“Ok Vicente, here’s one for you: what’s the chance of me getting the hell out of here before sunset?”
He snickered, and didn’t say anything. I gathered that whichever of Julio/Vicente’s cousins was working on my truck wasn’t the mechanical savant I had hoped for. Fuck it.

“You live in Phoenix?” I asked.
“Yep.”
“Fucking hot here.”
“Yep.”

We didn’t say anything for a while. The sun got higher and hotter, and Vicente brought out two Mountain Dews and a bag of Funyuns. He left the back door open to listen for the customer buzzer.

“I can’t believe you’re in love with Rosie Perez. It’s ridiculous.” I’m not one to know when to quit.
“You stupid gringo, you don’t know nothing about love. Or my Rosie.”
“How old is she now anyway?”
“You’re an asshole, you know that?”

We ate the Funyuns, and talked about the war for a while.

He offered me a smoke.

“No thanks. Well maybe.”
“Maybe? What’s ‘maybe’?”

“I don’t know.” I replied. “I’ve kind of been shopping for a new vice. How’s smoking working out for you?”
He laughed, a yellow smile.
“You’re fucking strange man. Even for a gringo.”
“Yeah, yeah I get that. What about the smoking.”
“It’s working OK I guess.”
“Better than drinking?”
“Better how?” He asked.
“I don’t know. Overall. Holistically.”
“They’re different. Drinking is more commitment.”
‘That’s just what I was thinking. Yeah go ahead and give me a smoke.”

We smoked, he laughed when I coughed. I was determined, though, and asked for another Newport when I finished the first.

“I got big plans.” Vicente said. The buzzer went off, and he went inside to sell Skittles and a lottery ticket to the fat chick with the screaming baby.
“Big plans.” He said, when he came back. “I’m gonna quit my job and start my own company. I’ve been working for this, you know, this upholstery place for like two years you know. The boss is an asshole, and he’s terrible. Never stocks things right. Takes him two days for even a small car. I’m gonna start my own place, I know more about upholstery than he does.”
“That’s good, man. Then you won’t have to moonlight at the Texaco.”
“Exactly, man. My own business, my own place. I’ll get married, have some kids. I’m getting old, I can’t wait around any more.”
“That’s good, man. Good to have a plan. I hope it works for you.”
“What do you do, man?” He asked.

Good question.

“I fix computers, I guess. Stuff like that. I wrote these articles for this Indian paper once, got paid.”
“Hah a writer, no wonder you so strange. You write because the ladies love it, right? You write them poems? On napkins and shit, with your phone number?” He grinned so hard I thought he’d dislocate a cheek.
“Pffft, no that ain’t how it works, Vicente.”
He had no interest in explanations.
“The ladies love it, I bet. All the girls.”
“Yeah, you know, no, not so much. Not really.”
“You shitting me man?”
“No, seriously. You’re a different dude on paper than you are in person, you know?”
“Yeah I know man, I wrote Rosie a letter once but she never wrote back. I can’t write so good, but I’m way better in person, you know.”
“I can see that.”

We watched a greasy, fat old dude pull around to our side of the gas station in his ugly bronze Aerostar. His dashboard was littered with crap, flyers and empty cups and stuff. Disgusting. Vicente and I looked at him, through the dirty windshield. He looked at us.

A moment passed.

The greasy old guy threw the van in reverse, and pulled back out of the rear parking lot. Apparently he hadn’t found what he sought.

“Yeah I dunno man.” I said.
“Dunno what?”
“What I should do, all that. I’ve got a lot of things I want to do, but no big, end of the road goal. Lots of scenes and no plot, you know what I mean?”
“Yeah man I know what you mean, for sure. I can help you man.”
He looked around warily. He leaned in closer, scooting forward on the sidewalk.
“I’m an Aztec shaman, man. I can help you figure stuff out, about these things. It’s in my blood.”
“You fucking work at Texaco, Vicente, you’re not a witchdoctor. You’re probably not even Aztec.”
“The hell you say! I’m full blooded Aztec, you gringo bastard. My grandfather taught me the ancient ways, I can divine secrets and speak to the dead. I could kill a man with a word, it’s true. My people were powerful sorcerers before you all showed up. Some of us still remember the old ways, you know man?”
“My people, shit. I slept alot in history, probably missed the section on the Mexican-Scottish war. Don’t blame me for Spanish crimes, my people had nothing to do with it.”
“You know what I mean. Stop fucking interrupting me, I mean it, I can help you with this man! I know the ways! That’s how I know to open the upholstery place, I asked my spirit guides, my ancestors and stuff for guidance!”
“Ok let’s do it.” Why not, right?

Vicente locked the store and we walked down two blocks, into the Valley Fair shopping center. Next to the Hollywood Video was a Michael’s. We went inside. It was 11:30 by now, and nearly 100 degrees outside.
We had trouble in the craft store.

“What do you mean, you don’t have unscented candles?”
“These lavender ones are very nice, sir. Mountain Spring is also a good buy, in my experience.”
“Listen, honey.” I put my hand on the mousy girl’s shoulder. After Vicente had knocked down the wrapping paper display, I wanted to cut her some slack, you know, not be rude. “We’re not making a god damn angel shaped paper plate holder for our youth group meeting, here. We’re using these candles to summon the dead! That guy over there, by the scrapbooking supplies? That man is an Aztec Witchdoctor. We need candles for a demon summoning ritual, an ancient rite. You think we can lure demons with Holiday Spice scented candles? Or Night Jasmine? We need god damn unscented candles, here.”
They didn’t have any, but Sue (the mousy girl, with the hairy arms) was nice enough to check in the back for us. I’m pretty sure she wanted me.

We bought five pack of “Tropical Fiesta” candles, the most risque scent available at Michael’s and thus the most appealing to dark spirits, as well as some straw dolls, a box cutter, and some red felt. I had left my wallet in my truck, but I convinced Vicente to write a check. He had no ID with him, but I charmed Sue into taking it anyway. She was a nice girl, despite the hairy arms.

Back at the Texaco, Vicente prepared the ritual. He arrayed the candles and the red felt and assorted accoutrements on top of the pay phone, arranging a sort of altar. I argued with Manuel over my truck repairs, while Vicente chanted and arranged.

“Trevor come over here, we can start now man.”
I cussed at Manuel the Inept in Spanish, telling him to stop work until I returned.
“Como se dice incompetent, Vicente?”
“You fucking need to focus on the ritual, man. Don’t worry about that stuff, just the spirits. Open your mind.”

Vicente lit the candles. A plasticky, sweet smell reminiscent of citrus enveloped our payphone. Vicente continued to chant, and motioned for me to bow my head.

“Now, what kind of spirits do you wish to consult?”
“What are my choices?” I asked.
“This is why my mama told me not to help people like you, you’re too stupid for your own good.”
“It’s a fair question, you ass! What kind of spirits are there, that I can consult with? Jesus, bite my head off!”
Vicente sighed.

“Ok, you can commune with the dead, the unborn, or the inhuman. The unborn don’t have much to say, obviously. The inhuman aren’t very, you know, friendly. They don’t like interruptions.”
“Well then I’ll take the dead.”
“Which?”
“Which what?”
“Which dead, idiot!”
“Ok. Ok. Let’s see here… writers maybe?”
“Alright.”
He began to hum.
“No no no wait, sorry. Not writers. Writers are too dissociated, you can’t take life guidance from a writer. All the good ones were drunks and fools, terrible at life. What the hell do they know. How about journalists.”
“Ok.”
He began humming again, head bowed and eyes closed.

I waited.

I waited more.

I started to get uncomfortable, standing. You know when you kind of start shifting your weight around? Left foot, right foot, stretching unnecessarily, stuff like that. I watched Manuel violate my truck.

I waited.

The phone rang.

“Jesus christ! Scared the hell out of me.”
“Answer it.” Vicente said, his voice strained.

“Hello?”
Nothing but clicks, and silence. The sounds of phone systems connecting.
“Anybody there?”
More clicks, random whirring analog noises.
“Hellooooooo…..”
*Click*

“You’ve reached the nether void, how may I direct your call?” A sharp female voice asked.

I didn’t say anything.

“You’ve reached the nether void, how may I direct your call?” She repeated, disdainfully.

“The dead, please.”

“Which dead, sir?”

“Journalists?”

“Anyone in particular sir?”

“No, no I guess not. Somebody who can help me make life decisions.”

More clicks and whirs on the line.

The first to answer was Herb Caen. He was furious at having his eternal dreamless sleep interrupted, and cursed me thoroughly before hanging up.
The next was Siskel, who I guess kind of qualifies as a journalist. He offered no guidance, and abandoned me on hold when I asked if I should go see Into the Blue.
Finally I reached someone named Marvin.

“Who is this?”
“Who is this?”
“Hey you called me, buddy, you go first.”
“My name’s Trevor, I’m one of the living, I’m searching for guidance.”
“Ok Trevor, my name’s Marvin.”
“Ok.”

Awkward silence.

“Sooooo Marvin, you’re a journalist?”
“I wrote for the Washington Post for two years after college. Then I went into insurance.”
“Two years? That’s not much of a writing career.”
“Yeah. I was a sports writer, I covered golf and basketball.”

“What should I do, Marvin?”
“About what?”
“Life.”
“Beats me man, whatever you want I suppose. Stay in shape, you know. Be nice to people when you can, I guess that’s it.”
“You’re the worst spirit guide ever, Marvin.”
“Yeah I know, I’m sorry. Good luck though.”

And so Marvin and I parted ways.

Vicente blew out the candles.

“You get everything figured out man? All straight now? I told you I was an Aztec witchdoctor.”
“Yeah I’m all set man. Good to go.”

Manuel yelped, dropping a wrench into my lame truck’s innards with a dull clank.

“Think I can get out of here before sunset?”

————————————————–

That’s why I don’t go to Arizona any more.

I can say to you, with some authority, that the answers to it all, to the questions that drive and the desires that bind, are not to be found in Phoenix.

Damn I’m tired.

-T.

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