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Live from Fresno y Los

from "Just Everything"

So on a Thursday night Walter finds himself on a strange porch with his new friend Nadia under a moon the size of a grapefruit, making out. She called him up out of the blue (actually she always called him up on Thursday nights, and on Mondays and Tuesdays and Wednesdays too. Walter pretended he didn’t like it but liked it very much) to say that she was here, in the City of Commerce, at her mom’s friend’s house on a street called Jillson or something.

Walter dressed up in his best Levi’s and t-shirt and trucked on over there. She met him on the corner, and now they lean against the railing looking up at that moon the size and shape and color of a grapefruit in the sky. He squeezes his eyes shut and imagines himself on it, scooping out spoonfuls before he dissolves into her shoulder, biting her.

They bite each other. They lean against each other and sigh, slurp, hold tight. They nuzzle fondly in the barren part of Walter’s neighborhood, where the bank jets straight up into the sky like a concrete geyser dimly lit by the ground lights, and the rushing roar of the traffic on Washington Boulevard is constant behind them.

The house is a small, wooden structure that Walter has not noticed before, tucked into a corner between the bank on one side and an alley of similar rundown houses on the other; weeds stick up out of the dirt. Vacant lots are scattered around them. Then the neighborhood proper starts, where Walter came from.

from "Harold, All American"

Harold Lopez was a kid from East LA who moved into our neighborhood when he was about seven or eight years old; we liked him right off. He fit right into Commerce, our working class suburb down the street from his old block, the barrio he had left for our cleaner streets. We welcomed him. He was cool plus some. But he kept going to that Catholic school in East LA even as he hung around with us new dudes, us public school dudes, and kept his ways. Not really his Catholic school ways, but his ways of doing things, of being Harold. Stuck in a carpool of kids who marched at Saint Whatever It Was, a cadre of smirking nerds we tended to look down upon – salt-and-pepper-pantsed dorks when they weren’t being mercenary psychopaths, weren’t taking dares for a dime that jeopardized the whole city (“Climb that pole, man, and stick an M-80 in the utility box! I dare you!”) – he finished his grammar school days in East LA and then bombed out on the test for the Catholic high school he should’ve rightly gone to. He aced most of it but failed the English part. But he was a whiz at math, really good at it, able to calculate numbers beyond our reckoning with a facility that astounded. Coupled with his athletic ability – his football stardom – his math smarts got him into the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs.

I myself was a lost and obnoxious know-it-all in those days, with no call to say anything about it now, unless this: I loved them, loved them all! And those fuckups in my town better know that …

Harold went on to greater things. But before the glories to come, public high school I should mention, backtrack and tell you about.

Von Harold, he of the sleepy eyes and dark, white-toothed, handsome face, ended up going to the public high school where most of the kids from my neighborhood went, and I ended up going to the Catholic high school that wouldn’t admit him; the opposite of him, I went from public school to Catholic school. We were always friends that way, sharing acquaintances and gossip about them in a pleasant, easy exchange that didn’t disturb or bring up the fact that he had failed where I had succeeded; there was plenty of time to catch up later …