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A little about myself:

Born on the same day as Charles Bukowski, one of my favorite writers and heroes, only 39 years later, in the same City of the Angels where he was raised. Grew up in the City of Commerce, six miles outside of Los Angeles, the spires of downtown visible on smogless days.

We never saw them.

In close proximity to East Los Angeles which we were warned to stay away from, suburbs which teased us with their influence, factories and warehouses all around us which hired us, except for those of us who fled to the valley for semi-respectable clerkships or the like, pink-collar jobs offering above-average (slightly) remuneration for mildly interesting but clean work.

We were a working-class town.

Modest homes, well-kept and maintained, graced the square neighborhoods partitioning our city into four sections.

One section was the barrio and not mine. The second section was the semi-barrio and mine until I was seven years old, when we moved to the third section to live in a bigger house.

We were five, mother, father, brother, sister, me.

We were a stable family, as stable as you can get with a man suffering the first stages of a terrible dreadful form of dementia.

Section four, lest I forget, was inhabited by Okies then, down the freeway from us in the whiter, poorer section of L.A.

It was actually all white and all poor then; we came in contact with them, got along with them, didn't.

Japanese Americans and older whites lived in my neighborhood, the more exclusive section of Commerce, which was civil, with underpinnings of violence and anger and despair.

The schools were good.

I went to local public schools until I was fourteen years old. Then I went to a catholic high school. It was pretty good, introducing me to literature in a more serious way.

I had always been a big reader for certain periods of my life, my mother holding a profound (almost august, sacrosanct) regard for books.

I remember her telling me in a market once, "I will never refuse you a book," after I came up to her with a volume.

She was a queer fish, lonely, depressed, joyful, gregarious--a presence, probably the brightest of her four siblings who are pretty bright, though not formally educated. Snobbish (by this I probably mean discriminating in the best sense of the word), not educated, with an innate taste for things material if not spiritual, a strong and enduring compassion for the unfortunate among us, and a hard regard for the world--a wonderful woman, complex and a great deal to do with who I am.

She was not materialistic, at all, a certain disease which plagued my section of Commerce more than the others.

I saw its casualties.

East L.A. loomed large.

It was the place we were afraid to drop into, to lose our bearings in Commerce and slip to.

I contend it is the true motherland of my generation, a second-and-a-half generation Mexican American whose ancestors came with the first wave of immigrants from Mexico around the Mexican Revolution.

California feels like mine.

The sunshine was good in Commerce.

My old man was crippled.

My brother was sick.

My sister I loved.

My friends were all pleasant working-class fuckups, some smarter than others, some dumber than shit, some destined for greatness (they own homes and maintain families, and if you don't call that greatness, I don't know what is), some doomed to premature failure and real lives of tragedy.

My introduction is over. I just wanted to tell you something about myself before you start reading my stories.

In my own voice.

I'm just a normal guy.

from "Elements"

I don't make it too long out there, ése. That's a fact.

Like that morning I strolled down to Harry's as usual, see what's up and get a few things.

So the night before I had picked up on this vieja at the bar. Lazy and slow we had did it on the
couch in my little room in the back, fucking in the rug after when we were all done.

"Ee, ésa, that was good," I said.

Then she was getting up her things up to split.

"All right, ésa," I said. "Be that way. Don't give your man a kiss."

Already I was leaning back on my bed with my hands folded behind my head.

My couch turns out to a bed.

She looked at me from the dresser, "Okay." Then she smiled, blew one at me and was out the door like she was embarrassed or something about it all.

Oh well, fuck it, la Rita I think she said her name was.

I went back to sleep on the couch.

Then when I opened my eyes and got up I noticed a rag of paper on the dresser.

So I had another number, ése, or something to work with if I ever got lonely or something in the night.

Old time pachuca, old time chola who I think I saw around before.

But who knows, I been a lot of places.

Anyways I decided to go down to the liquor store and get some whatever.

So I did.