A chapter from the upcoming book Three Batos And One Chavala by Tommy Villalobos
Somos en escrito welcomes back Tommy Villalobos, one of the first budding novelists drawn to our cyberpages. After a long hiatus in a hideout in the High Sierra, he reappears with this chapter excerpted from a coming novel, full of broad swaths of barrio life and inimitable characters. Here's a quick glimpse, introduced in the writer's own words: “I’d like to give you a quick background of my story. It’s a novel, or novella, called Three Batos And One Chavala. It’s about a train trip from L.A. to San Francisco set in the 1930’s. I did research for that time period, including trains, terminology, dress, music, locations and geography. Three guys (los batos) compete for one Chicana beauty (the chavala) on the train ride. The story starts out in the East L.A. of that period and ends up in San Fran and Watsonville, with side trips back to L.A.. There’s a dominant tía involved, protectress of the girl, Samuela, who tries to trip up all suitors of her sobrina.”
Sandra made a twisted face because the encounter had ruffled her feathers and caused her great distraction, an interference of her concentration required to speak about meters and penta-meters in contemporary poetry. She sat down to review her lecture notes. The door opened yet again and Alicia popped in again.
“Señora, llegó otro.”
“This is outrageous!” wailed Sandra. “Hope you told him to go find another house.”
“No, también lo tire en la sala.”
“Is he a poetry critic from a magazine?”
“Not even close, Señora. He has shiny shoes, suit, tie and slick-back hair. He says his name is Alberto Pistillo.”
“Yes. He showed me something with his name, I guess, but I couldn’t read it since I left my lentes in the kitchen where I was cleaning the frijoles.”
Sandra walked to the door with the ugliest face she could imagine making, stopping at a wall mirror to look at herself. Satisfied, she continued on. Like she had just announced, this was outrageous to her. She recalled this apestoso, Alberto Pistillo. He was the hijo of Fred Pistillo, the one who was helping Joe Milago in trying to snag her little house overlooking the Pacific. He lived somewhere around here. This unwelcome visit could only have one purpose and that would be to talk about her house. She headed toward the living room determined to stomp out the Pistillo familia from her life once and for all.
Alberto Pistillo was skinny, appearing hungry for both food and love. He had dark, beady eyes and a pug nose, giving him the appearance of a desperate Pug Dog. In fact, he looked more like a Pug Dog than a Pug Dog did. He shocked diners in restaurants when he sat eating spaghetti and cream carrots. It seemed to them that he would prefer a small steak bone chased with a dog biscuit.
“Buenas días, Señora Westo.”
“Sit,” she said, keeping with the Pug theme.
Alberto sat even though he looked as if he would rather be petted. His beady eyes scanned the room, a wry smile on his mug, if I can use that word given his canine appearance.
“Señora, I need to talk with you alone.”
“You are talking to me,” said Sandra, waving around the room. “And as you can see, we are alone.”
“Where do I start?”
“I’ll tell you. No. The answer is No.”
Alberto shook visibly.
“Then you know?”
“That is all I know since I ran into Mr. Milago. He can talk about nothing but my humble casita. Your father talks about nothing else. And now,” Sandra raised the volume several decibels, “you show up to hammer my head some more. One more time, nothing doing. There isn’t enough money in circulation to let someone live in my home by the sea.”
“Then you don’t know why I am here?”
“You didn’t come to talk about my casita by el mar?”
“No, I didn’t come about that.”
“¿Entonces, por que diantre estás aquí?”
Alberto shifted his feet nervously. He moved his body as if were trying to get out of it.
“I like to mind my own business.”
“Really?” she said, to get him started again.
“I don’t carry chismes with just anyone.”
“I don’t make…”
Sandra was never a patient person. Or poet.
“Just let us accept all your character traits, and let us take it from there,” she said bluntly. “I am dead sure there are all kinds of things you don’t do. Let’s talk about what you can do about where you are now. What do you want to talk about, if I can make such a shocking demand upon you?”
“Your niece’s marriage.”
“My sobrina is not married.”
“No, but she is going to be. At The Little Chapel of Hope in Gardena.”
“I’m not happy either,” said Alberto. “I’ll tell you, and speaking for myself, I’m in love with her, too.”
“Nonsense as far as you’re concerned. But who is this other drip?”
“Felt that way for years. I’m one of those silent types, hiding in the shadows, liking a woman but never telling her or showing her my feelings…”
“Who is the snake who has ambushed my sobrina?”
“I have always been a man to…”
“Mr. Pistillo! Let’s also assume you have some good qualities. Tell you what, let’s not even talk about you anymore. You barge in here with a crazy story…”
“Not crazy. Facts. I heard it from a primo, who heard it from a prima, who heard it from an abuela, who heard it…”
“Will you tell me who the alley cat is who has tricked my niece or do I choke it out of you?”
“I agree that she is muddled, alright,” said Alberto, jumping at the opportunity to be agreeable, “and I think she should be marrying me. She is a fine catch. We practically grew up together and I loved her then and love her now. I’m sure she knows. But things sometimes don’t go the way you want them to. I saw a chance last summer but I lost my nerve. I am not a smooth and flashy man with a great line. I can’t…”
“Stop now!” said Sandra. “Hold your self-analysis for friends and family who would be somewhat interested. I want to hear the name of the worm my niece is NOT going to marry.”
“I thought I told you,” said Alberto, surprised. “Extraño. Guess I haven’t! Funny how you feel you’ve said something and haven’t. People know me as…”
“Whatever is the fool’s name?”
“Milago? Trimino Milago? The wild-haired son of Joe Milago I met at your father’s casa?”
“You have it. What a guess. You should stop it before it happens.” “Watch me.”
Tommy Villalobos, in his own words: “I am living a contemplative life in suburbia, which itself is something of a feat. Talk about an oxymoron. I am writing my silly novels and short stories about my working gente (and some who kinda work), and their sometimes entertaining attempts at love and living in our bicultural experience going way back before La Llorona, El Cucuy and them. I hope to make friends so I can steal more historias and chismes for my stories. I was born and raised in East Los, but I have wandered aimlessly since. I presently live near Sacramento in an undisclosed location known only to who knows who.”
“Ten years later, Elvis regretted their breakup more than anything in his life.”
An excerpt from Ballad of a Slopsucker, a short story collection upcoming next year
By Juan Alvarado Valdivia
Ballad of a Slopsucker
The parking lot at Horatio’s was packed for the ten-year reunion of San Leandro High’s Class of ’87 and Elvis Borboa—who had been voted Most Likely to Be on MTV his senior year—sat in his car near the back of the lot, sucking on a cigarette like nicotine was oxygen. An hour before, he had stood in front of his closet mirror wondering, Should I stay or should I go? He tried on shirt after shirt until he narrowed it down to two—a long-sleeve button-down shirt so it’d look like he had made something of himself, or a striped polo shirt that said I-don’t-really-give-a-shit-about-appearances-but-I’ll-look-presentable. No matter which one he wore, Elvis saw a twenty-eight-year-old straight-edge Latino reflected back to him—the cropped hair, fitted jeans, and a shirt that covered the flaming skull tattoo on his right shoulder. As he stared at himself, he couldn’t help but wonder if the teenage, fuck-authority version of himself would have hated who he had become: just another tool; another sellout working for a big bank.
While he sat in his new Honda Accord, he couldn’t shake the nervous, twisted feeling in his stomach. He popped the Eagles’s Greatest Hits into the CD player. He skipped to “Best of My Love,” which was totally un-metal of him. A long drag from his cigarette followed. It had been months since he had smoked. Oddly enough, the song soothed him even though it reminded him of Susana, his ex-girlfriend from high school. Ever since they graduated, he had occasionally daydreamed of playing and dedicating that song to her (which was totally un-metal of him).
After he flicked the cigarette out the window, Elvis flung the car door open. He strode across the parking lot. On his way to the entrance, he noticed a few faces that looked familiar. He couldn’t remember their names, but he knew they were smart kids back in school. Would they recognize him now? Would anyone recognize him?
Standing by the entrance, next to the part of the restaurant that resembled a kitschy lighthouse, was Joey Marchment. He was smoking a cigarette by himself. Back in high school he was a quintessential stoner-skateboarder. He had gone to a couple of Elvis’s shows. Shit, they even shared a joint at one of their high school parties. Joey had also cleaned himself up for the occasion. Dress shirt, pair of khakis, shiny dress shoes instead of his old Dr. Martens. His bleach-blonde hair—which used to be long and greasy as if he flipped burgers for a living—was now short, thinning, and slicked back. Like Elvis, he had developed a respectable beer paunch.
“Elvis Borboa?” Joey said.
“What’s going on, Joey,” Elvis said, shaking his hand. “Glad you remember me.”
“Of course, man. You were Elvis, the heavy metal god!”
Elvis used to be the front man of a thrash metal band he started at San Leandro High with his best friend, Dontae. The band’s name was Slopsucker. In high school Elvis sported long, curly black hair, torn-up jeans, and a black leather jacket his dad had handed down to him.
“You still play?” Joey asked.
“Nah, man.” Elvis couldn’t help but hang his head.
“That’s too bad. I remember you used to shred.”
“Yeah, well, you know, it’s one of those things. Hardly anyone can pay the bills playing a six-string.”
“Fucking A, man, fucking A,” Joey said, nodding and slowly turning his head like he was watching a thought gently bob away. Inside, Elvis heard a loud hum of chatter around the corner. Goddamn it, he thought. People were already asking about his former musical self.
A sign by the front podium read, “Class of ’87 Reunion!” An overly smiley Asian woman with a name tag that read “Annie Chow” sat behind a long table covered with rows of printed name tags. They exchanged pleasantries. Elvis remembered she was a major kiss-up in school. She parked her rear front row and center in their physics class so she could laugh at all the inane jokes from their teacher along with all the other voracious grade-grubbers. On top of being pretty, she had always been smart and driven. Once he saw the big glittery rock on her ring finger, Elvis figured she got just about everything she ever wanted in life.
He saw his name tag on the table. He scanned the remaining ones for Susana and Dontae’s. They were MIA. Were they coming? Were they already there? Would they talk to him, or tell him to fuck off? Would Susana be there with someone? A boyfriend? Husband? What if she was inexplicably free after all these years?
The classy restaurant overlooked the San Leandro Marina. The dining area around the bar was roped off for their reunion. All the tables had been cleared out so everyone could mingle. Seventy or eighty people convened throughout the room. Most of his old classmates had dressed up as if they were dining at a posh restaurant in San Francisco, the city he had called home since graduating from high school. Booming laughter from the patio startled him. There was so much happening around him. Before he realized what he was doing, Elvis beelined to the bar. He could’ve walked past Gandhi, Cindy Crawford, or Ozzy Osbourne and not noticed them. Man, did he need a drink.
As he leaned against the counter, staring at the bartender, trying to will him to look his way, Elvis scanned the bar as though his birth name was Cool Breeze. He locked eyes with a classmate whose name tag read “Mindy Roberts.” Her jaw dropped. She waved with such glee that he waved back, although he had never—as far as he remembered—had a conversation with her. Two stools down from Mindy was George, a wild-haired Samoan who had streaked across the football field during a homecoming game Susana had dragged him to. And then there she was: Susana. The woman of his sad and sorrowed dreams of unrequited love. She stood in a circle of women gathered at the other end of the bar. His heart bottomed. She was fucking gorgeous and cute as ever—the same big brown eyes, light-brown skin, and magnetic smile that drew people to her. Her black hair fell over the straps of her blue summer dress. Elvis thought she had never looked so beautiful—except maybe at the junior prom they had gone to together.
Once he spotted her, Elvis was done for; he couldn’t keep himself from stealing glances at her. After all those years they were actually in the same room. And to his complete and dizzying surprise she seemed to be alone. No possible significant other satellited around her.
While he watched her, Elvis couldn’t help but remember—as much as he didn’t want to—the last time they were together.
It all went down on a Saturday afternoon, less than two months before their senior prom. Elvis was in his bedroom restringing his black Jackson King V guitar. Venom’s classic Black Metal blared from his stereo. It was 1987, a year after thrash metal’s zenith when Metallica’s Master of Puppets, Slayer’s Reign of Blood, Megadeth’s Peace Sells . . . but Who’s Buying?, and Kreator’s Pleasure to Kill came out. Elvis’s dad was in the backyard, working in his shed, when his mom knocked on the door.
“Yeah,” Elvis shouted over the music.
“Susy’s here for you!” she yelled from behind the door where Elvis had taped a poster of Machu Picchu shrouded in mist. “Shit,” he said to himself. He took a deep breath as he lurched to the front door.
Susy stood on the other side of the screen door. She wore a black tank top, faded blue jeans, and the green Chuck Taylors he had doodled on with a permanent marker. (He had scribbled “Elvis lives!” on the back heel.) She was concealing something behind her back.
“Hey, you wanna come in?” Elvis said, creaking the screen door open.
“That’s okay,” Susy said. “My dad’s taking us out to lunch with one of his friends. I was running some errands and just wanted to pop in to give you a surprise.”
“Oh yeah, what you got?”
Though he was trying to play it cool, Elvis could feel his stomach knot. The night before, he had snuck out to hit up a party without Susana. Celeste White, the lead cheerleader at San Leandro High, had invited him. Celeste White, the hottest girl in school, had flirted with him. She professed to Elvis that she liked him. This was certifiable wet dream material. To boot, she kept putting her hand on his arm and brushing her blonde hair while they talked. After he stumbled back home in a fog of blissful drunken stupor, he woke up thinking about how good it would have felt to make out with her. To have his hands all over her. The only reason he kept his paws to himself was because he and Susy had been together for two years. Susy handed him a mixed tape. On the cassette case spine she wrote “Heavy Shit” and drew a smiley face. Years later, remembering those details slayed him.
“I really liked your last mix,” she said. “I think you’re right—the Scorpions are the best thing to ever come out of Germany.” Elvis combed his long hair to the side so it wouldn’t cover half of his face. He stared off at the front lawn. Earlier that morning he had convinced himself to break up with her. He just didn’t know when to pull the plug.
“You okay?” she asked. Elvis had not hugged and kissed her like he typically would when she’d come over.
“Yeah, I’m just tired. Wait—let me walk you to your car.”
Susy marched to her old gray car parked in front of his parents’ house. He followed. She walked with her head lowered, staring at the walkway like she knew something was up. Afterward, Elvis wondered if she could sense what was coming.
“Your mind seems to be somewhere else,” Susy said as they approached her car.
Elvis took a breath. “Susy, this is something I’ve been thinking about for some time. I’m just, uh—I, umm—I think we should date other people.”
Elvis never forgot the face Susy made—her mouth dropping, her eyes opening wide.
“Are you serious?” she said, staring up at him. She took a step forward. “You’ve been thinking about this for some time? Since when?”
“I don’t know. It’s been a while.”
“So why are you saying this to me now? You wanna go out with someone else? Is that it?”
Elvis took a step back. He thought she might try to slap him.
“Who is it, Elvis? Who is it?”
“It’s no one, Susy! I’m just afraid of this getting too serious. I’m sorry. I don’t know how else to say it.” “So what are you really saying? Are you breaking up with me? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”
“No, Susy. I just—think it’d be a good idea if we saw other people.”
Susy crossed her arms. She glared at him until he looked away. “That’s bullshit. And I am not okay with us seeing other people. If all you want to do is break up with me, then grow some damn balls and do it.”
Susy brushed past Elvis and stormed to the driver’s-side door. Once she fumbled for her keys, she stomped back to him.
“Give it to me,” she said.
She snatched the tape from Elvis, threw it on the sidewalk, and smashed the case with her foot. She flung the door open and slammed it before she drove off with the motor roaring.
Broken cassette in hand with its tape dangling, Elvis walked back into his house. He bunched up the loose tape in his hand. He didn’t want his mom to see it and ask what had happened.
In his room, the door closed, Elvis flipped through his milk crate full of albums. He took out Metallica’s Ride the Lightning. The album cover had an electric chair floating in a dark sky with bolts of lightning. He cued the record to “Fade to Black.” He blasted it, all dramatic, then he lay on his bed, hands cupped behind his head, clutching the cassette as the opening guitar notes filled the room. He stared at the picture of his idol, Tom Araya—the Chilean bassist and lead singer for Slayer—taped on the ceiling above his bed. He felt shitty about what he’d done. They had been friends since junior high when he and Susy took Spanish classes together (the equivalent of Rob Halford taking beginner’s classes for heavy metal screeching). During sophomore year he walked her home practically every day unless she was working on the school paper, having soccer practice, or attending one of her Chicano-power MECHA meetings. Susy had lost her virginity to him. That was a big deal to him as well. And she was the first girl—and maybe the only one—he had ever loved.
By then Elvis was getting caught up in all his self-hype about their band, especially after Slopsucker blew away the other musical acts at their school talent show. He truly believed that part of his life was merely the beginning of something bigger. His bandmates, Dontae and White Trash Phil, talked about becoming the best thing to come out of shit town San Leandro, like how Metallica’s Cliff Burton had come out of neighboring Castro Valley to become the most badass metal bassist on the planet. Elvis didn’t want to be like everyone else. He didn’t want to turn out like his mom and dad, who never seemed happy—more like they were stuck with one another. He wanted a rock ’n’ roll kind of life: the thrill he’d get when he would thrash his head and flail on a guitar. The way he felt ten feet tall onstage in front of a crowd. The communion he felt playing with his bandmates. “It’s one life you live,” his father—a former bohemian—liked to tell him. Una vida. Susy was a way cool chick, but Celeste White—the girl every straight guy in the locker room openly fantasized about—was the Big Leagues. Susy didn’t fit in with the flashy, VH1 behind-the-scenes documentary Elvis thought his life could become. He was afraid that he and Susy would turn out like his mom and pop someday. He was afraid of growing up to become like his dad, living his dreams vicariously through one of his children since he was too chickenshit to have truly chased them when he was younger.
After “Fade to Black” ended, the turntable needle hissed on a constant loop. Elvis leapt off his bed. Fuck it, he thought, chucking the tape into his trash can. In that moment he practically thought of their breakup as some life lesson; he rightly figured life would have its share of difficult decisions he would have to make. Like dumping a sweet girl for the hottest chick in school.
Juan Alvarado Valdivia is a Peruvian American writer born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and raised in Fremont, CA. His fiction has been published in The Acentos Review, Black Heart Magazine, The Cortland Review, Label Me Latina/o, Origins Journal, and is forthcoming from Prairie Schooner. His first book, ¡Cancerlandia!: A Memoir, received an Honorable Mention for the 2016 International Latino Book Award for Best Biography in English.
This feature first appeared in Somos en escrito on January 11, 2017.
Guess who wins!
Excerpt from Outline for Love, a novel
By Tommy Villalobos
Mona Rinistor stepped out of her office for a breath of fresh air. Chava Absuena, likewise, stepped out of her office for one reason or another. She was not sure. Mona had been in the same office complex for several years, although it felt like only a few months. Chava had been working in her office for several hours, and it seemed like several years. The offices opened out into the second floor balcony and city smells and ruidos. Mona walked toward Chava. Chava, in turn, wanted to turn and dart back into her office. She thought Mona was some kind of dueña, for Chava had bad experiences with bosses and landladies. Her first job was at an ice cream parlor in Nogales, Méjico. Then a beauty parlor in Juarez. Then a poker parlor in Amarillo. Then the Sunshine Tattoo Lounge in San Diego. She also had to stretch her paychecks. When a landlady was close at her heels, Chava, a quick packer, hopped on a bus. Now Chava Absuena worked in a fashion parlor in Los Angeles. This time her dueña was a dueño, Max Lipiz.
A few writers in the past, Thomas Hardy dancing among them, have pointed the ironies of life. Here was one. Max was a barrio sort who, for some reason (his Tía Minstra Telamacundra said it was due to a good kick to the head he suffered when a boy at the hands of some primo), decided one beer-soaked evening at The Green Bar to become a women's fashion consultant. His friends said it was just to get girls. He said it was simply his chosen career path. His Tía Minstra reminded him that his whole family from his father's side going way back before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was a family of contented carpenters. The fact did not move him. “Hello,” said Mona, sticking a hand toward Chava before she could close the door. “Hi,” said Chava defensively, hesitating before sticking out her hand from the small space left by a nearly closed puerta. Mona had to reach for it and their fingers barely made contact before Chava withdrew hers behind her back as if to prevent Mona from grabbing it again. “Do you work for the Women's Fashion Consultant?” asked Mona looking at the sign on the door. Chava followed her eyes to the sign on the door as if to confirm that Mona had correctly defined the sign. “Yes,” she said with hesitation as she looked back to Mona. “Are you her?” “Not even.” “Where is she?” “She ain't anywhere.” “We all gotta be somewhere.” “Not her.” “Huh?”
“My boss is some guy.” “Now is he?” Chava nodded vigorously as if to latch on to stark reality. “Interesting.” Chava drew a blank. She then tried to phantom in her mind what was interesting. “So you just started working for him?” said Mona. “Uh-huh.” “How many people work here?” “Just me.” “Are you his partner?” she said while appraising Chava's purple abstract printed tunic and faded denim leggings. “No. I just answer phones.” “Oh.” On cue, the telephone rang. Chava stared at Mona as if wanting direction. “I better let you answer that,” said Mona, giving her some. Chava closed the door. Mona slowly walked back to her office, the office of a thriving accountant. Mona thought. Rules change. I deal with cold numbers and here's a homey who deals with warm figures. Go figure. Mona had spent her early life in and around East Los Angeles since birth. Her brain then took her to Villanova then to various parts of the world, including Houston where she obtained her first employment with an accounting firm that accounted for big perfume, little diapers and mediocre law firms. Tiring of endless parties and shopping sprees, she decided to come back home and account in L.A. “Welcome home, mija,” her mother had declared when Mona returned home. “We have your room ready and your father is inviting his best friend's hijo to meet you. He is a metal polisher and makes good money to support you and all the chavalos you're going to push out.” Mona had already secured a condominium along the beach at a good price. How does one tell amá and apá that the nest is even a tighter fit than before? Way Numero 1: Mom, dad, I have been to three colleges, two countries, four states and several republics of various political persuasions, if one interprets that word loosely, so home would be a lame environment. Way Numero 2: There are not too many big accounting firms in our Hood. Way Numero 3: I need my space which apá considers met by an 8 by 8 foot bedroom, dinner and a sala with plenty of boxeo and one or two telenovelas. Way Numero 4: One outing a year to visit parientes in San Fernando is not the social life I envision lasting until my dotage. Way Numero 5: I like my privacy, which is nearly non-existent with family, neighbors, and dad's ne'er-do-well amigos parading through the house at all hours. Mona, with a frowning father and a disappointed mother, set up homemaking by herself—and eventually one aquarium fish—in a roomy place with a great view of Pacific sunsets. The life of a successful accountant, certified, and daughter, not certified, pleased her. Therefore, Mona floated into her office every weekday morning, gathering accounting accounts as little girls gather daisies. She had a knack for selling her skills that she developed at nine when she made Christmas ornaments and sold them outside of supermarkets. From there, she began making little trinkets and selling them outside of bars where men snapped them up to give to girlfriends and even wives. Then she washed perros but no gatas because of one scratch she got on her forehead, which, to this day, she claims is a scar she will carry forever. No one has ever seen the scar but she claims, nonetheless, it is there. Back in her office, Mona went to her desktop and began in earnest an accounting services proposal for one women's fashion consultant. He has one employee, one office and seems to have no clientele in sight. She was witness to one phone call, which could have been a wrong number, or worse, from family. At the same moment, Max Lipiz was in front of his cracked mirror in a trailer he rented. The old, rusty trailer sat behind an iron works shop, which sat behind an auto paint shop that sat behind a pickle factory. This made for absorbing and enchanting noises and odors that floated into his trailer round the clock.
He dressed meticulously, spending nearly all his money on clothes and accessories that make the man, for who wanted an unkempt slouch advising them on fashion, especially women. His rent was minimal as well as his eating. He was slim, neat and eager. Only his nose gave away his gaunt figure as it protruded dramatically from the rest of him. Max's Smartphone let out a tune, “Sabor A Mi.” This was his only other luxury. “This is Max,” he said into the phone. “Maximiliano Rudolfo, this is your Tía,” said his Tía Minstra, her voice a foghorn of robustness. “Yes, Tia,” said Max with all due respect to the tía who looked over him like a guardian angel, who had slipped in other duties and, therefore, as punishment, had been given the assignment of watching Max. “Come over and eat. I made huevos con chilaquiles. You used to like them.” “I still do, Tía, but I've got to get to the office and make money.” “Money can wait. Chilaquiles can't.” Silence. “¿Me estás oyendo?” she then said as if Max were a fair piece down a country road. He moved the phone nearly half a foot from his ear. “I have to make a living. I'll eat them next time I'm there.” “It's been a week. My brother, your Tío George, offered you a good job in his landscaping business. He has clients from Beverly Hills to Thousand Oaks.” “I have my own business, Tía.” “Advising women how to put on and wear a dress? Men want to undress women, not dress them.” “I'm flexible.”
“Dresses and men don't go together.” The conversation ended because his aunt ended it with a slam of the phone. And Max took that slam with ringing ear to his office. Mona jumped out of her office to intercept him. “Hello,” she said. “Hi,” he said, rushing past. “Are you the fashion guy?” “Yes,” he said as he turned and stopped. “Funny.” “Sure is,” he began to turn and walk again. “No, I mean, you being a fashion advisor for women?” “Yeah, my aunt thinks it's hilarious.” “Does she?” “Reminds me constantly how silly I am.” He then took a few more steps and reached for the doorknob to his office. “I'd like to talk to you,” she said in her never-ending search for accounting clients. “Sure,” he smiled, looking for his first fashion client. “We'll be talking, I'm sure.” He disappeared. Then Mona did. The walkway was at rest once more, void of accounting and fashion folks. So went the days, then weeks. Mona did obtain two clients during this period. Max received phone calls but only two made appointments and only one showed up. She was a council member from a small city somewhere. When Lora Milinda wearing two-inch, black opened toed wedge heels walked through the door, Chava was going to tell her that the accounting office was next door, for she was dressed to kill men or numbers. Her outfit consisted of a black and white plaid knee-length body hugging dress, and a blue long sleeve tailored blazer that accentuated her small waste. Her dark brown shoulder length hair curled outward on the sides as if she had just stepped out of the celebrated Grove Salon. Her makeup had a professional touch. There was nothing wrong with her that Chava could see. Nevertheless, before she could tell her, in so many words, Lora Milinda, used to beating fellow politicians to the punch, spoke. “I have an appointment to see the fashion person.” “No kidding?” said Chava with genuine wonderment in her voice. “Is he ready for me?” “I'll check,” said Chava without taking her eyes off the woman while getting up. She walked over to Max's office and peeked in. Before she could say anything, Max also beat her to the punch by waving an arm from the direction where the female voice had entered his ears to the chair stationed in front of his desk. Chava turned around from where she stood and mimicked Max's wave, waving from Lora to the chair in front of Max's desk. Lora quickly and obediently followed the waving Chava to the chair. Max stood and extended a hand toward her. Lora touched it with three fingers then sat. Max, too, was impressed with her trappings, so much so that he, like Chava, stared. “I'm Lora Milinda.” “Hello. I'm Max. How can I help you?” A standard greeting for any business, but in Max's case, he meant it. He actually was wondering how he could help the woman who already looked much like the After photograph of any Before photo anyone could come up with. “It's not me. It is my niece. She is nineteen. She also has been hit by that worm that hits many chavalas in the barrio—she fantasies herself a Chola. She dresses more like one than acts like one. That's one saving grace.” “I see,” he said, without seeing. “I've taken her to beauty parlors and she looks okay for a day then back to the slouch look with a hairdo that maybe lasts another day. Can you do something?” “Something?” “Well, anything?” “Anything?” “For a poor soul who will never have a good man kiss her.”
“Good man kiss her?” “Can you say anything on your own?” Max considered. “Sure,” he said with delight, like a pupil answering a tough question from a tough teacher. “Go ahead then.” “How come you didn't bring her?” “I had planned to but she must have got wind of it and went to her welding class.” “She welds?” “Like a boilermaker. And she likes caballos. And baseball. And I mean, hardball with the guys. See, we're dealing with someone that if she doesn't watch it, will end up slugging beers with old veterano cholos in some dive, unmarried, unloved, smelly and unattractive. I want to make a grand lady. You know, a woman you guys can't help but want to carry off and spend your lives going broke over.” “I got the broke part down.” “What?” “I wish I could see her.” “Here she is,” said Lora while whipping out a photograph of a girl, a little one. “How can I work with this? She's little here.” “Picture her a few feet taller with the latest chola hairstyle, the same scowl, but stylin' like only cholas can.”
Tommy Villalobos, who lives somewhere in Northern California, has several e-books out, Lipstick con Chorizo, the story we serialized ala Carlos Dickens in Somos en escrito a few years ago, Love thy neighbor, Oro and Elo were Buddies, and Unos Marranos Plus Una Vibora Equals Romance. This excerpt is from his latest novel, a love story laced with his droll Chicano humor, Outline for Love. Look for this and his other works among the e-book sellers.