A short story by Daniel A. Olivas
Origonally publish in The Coachella Review, reposted on La Bloga
We sit on the bench waiting for the Orange Line. Rosario reads a Bolaño novel that I gave her last week for her twenty-fourth birthday. In truth, I’d bought it for myself but I couldn’t get past the first thirty pages so I wrapped it in some nice gold wrapping paper, bought a card with a smiling monkey on it (you can’t go wrong with a monkey card), and gave it to Rosario. She loved it, wondered how I knew she wanted to read it. I shrugged. Brilliant, I guess.
I should have brought a book with me. Rosario is buried in Bolaño and I just look around. No one is here, just us. And a long-haired throwback to the seventies who sits on the next bench over to my right. Rosario sits to my left. Where is everyone? It’s Tuesday morning. Yes it’s early, but don’t people work anymore? Funny question since I don’t work, not right now. Between jobs, as they say. And Rosario is getting her masters in English literature at CSUN, so she’s not really working, either.
I hear a clicking sound and turn. It’s the hippie clicking with his tongue. But he stops, suddenly, now that he has my attention. He smiles. He’s too young to be missing teeth, but he appears to have only about six or seven left in his mouth. He clicks again and I turn to Rosario to see if she notices. Nope. She’s in love with Bolaño. She’s even smiling. She’s on page 123.
The hippie clicks again so I turn back to him. He isn’t smiling anymore. In fact, he looks pissed. Not just I-spilled-my-coffee-on-my-new-pants pissed. But a really I-will-kill-you-you-son-of-a-bitch pissed. He leans on his left arm so that he can get closer to me without getting off his bench. He leans, squints and whispers:
I blink. I look over at Rosario but she keeps on reading.
You’re a Mexican, he says.
I turn back to the hippie. So, it’s a cool Tuesday morning, my girlfriend and I wait for the Orange Line to get to the Red Line so we can make my appointment downtown. And this hippie with no teeth is calling me a Mexican, which I am. I just don’t need a toothless hippie to tell me what I already know. And besides, the hippie could be Mexican también based on his looks. Or he could be Peruvian, or Columbian, or something else, but certainly Latino if not Mexican per se. As I ponder the reason for the hippie’s concern for my ethnic heritage, he adds:
And a Jew, too.
He licks his lips after saying this. If it weren’t for the missing teeth and unkempt hair, the hippie would be somewhat handsome. But this is beside the point. The point is, how does he know that I’m a Jew? I converted four years ago. A point of contention between me and my Roman Catholic girlfriend. But I’m ten years older than Rosario, been married once before. I’ve lived. I’m complicated. And I’m a Jew. The hippie couldn’t know that. My religion, that is, not my complexity. Read Rest of Story Here.
Daniel A. Olivas is the grandson of Mexican immigrants, grew up near the Pico-Union and Koreatown neighborhoods of Los Angeles. He now makes his home in the San Fernando Valley with his wife and son. He is the editor of the landmark anthology, Latinos in Lotusland (Bilingual Press, 2008), which brings together 60 years of Los Angeles fiction y Latin@ writers as well as the award-winning novel, The Book of Want.