"A serialized novel and podcast by Andrew Leo Lovato"
Rudy and I remained best friends throughout elementary school. Besides being short and chubby with an unruly mop of thick brown hair, his most distinguishing feature was a startlingly loud laugh that sounded like a terrified horse. Rudy came from a family of thirteen children. His father was a large, friendly man who seemed to know everyone in town. Going to the grocery store with Rudy’s dad was an hour-long ordeal as he stopped to shake hands and talk every few minutes.
“Buenos Dias, Señor Chavez, how is your family? Have you examined your policy lately? You might want to drop by my office sometime next week and we could take a look and see if you’re adequately covered.” And on and on it went.
Mr. Gonzales sold life insurance and he was actively involved in local politics. Rudy’s mother was a saintly woman who sprinkled her conversation with phrases like “Dios via con tigo" (May God go with you) or “Se Dios quere" (If God wills it.). I always felt welcomed at the Gonzales’s home. I blended into the swirl of activity as fourteen children were not much different than thirteen.
Rudy and I sat in the backyard and practiced our clarinets for hours. We were in the school band and our parents had bought used clarinets from Mr. Torres, the band teacher, for $35 apiece. At this price they had agreed to let us have a stab at music even though they doubted that we had the temperament to master anything so intricate and that required so much patience. However, we surprised everyone and diligently practiced at least a couple of afternoons a week. It was debatable if the practicing did much good. Try as we did, we could never quite get the knack of keeping the slender, black instrument from emitting shrill, high squeaks at inopportune times in the melody.
“Okay, Rudy let’s try it one more time from the beginning. One, two, three, four; damn hombre, I think I cracked my reed!”
“Elvis, I’m tired of practicing. Let’s see if my dad will give us a ride into town.”
“Come on, man. We’ve only been practicing for fifteen minutes. If we don’t get this right, old man Torres will blow a gasket.”
After a few weeks of struggle, we managed to wrestle out the tune “The Volga Boat Song,” which was the simplest piece in our song book. This was about as far as the short-lived musical experiment went. Soon the weather began to warm up and our little league baseball team, the Cristo Rey “Fighting Jackrabbits” became much too much of a distraction.
Rudy’s home held special interest for me for reasons beyond our friendship. Rudy had a bevy of beautiful older sisters who were slim and richly tanned. They loved to tease and cuddle me like I was some sort of doll.
They grabbed me from behind and tickled me mercilessly taunting, “You’re so cute when you get mad. Are you mad, Elvis? Do you get mad at your girlfriend? What’s her name? Elvis has a girlfriend, Elvis has a girlfriend!”
I feigned annoyance but I secretly loved every moment of it. The girls often wandered around in their bras and panties looking for assorted jeans and scattered clothes in the impossibly cluttered house. I couldn’t help but slyly eye the scene in wonder as they pranced around in their natural, unashamed beauty.
I grew up in a family that had never acknowledged the subject of sex or reproduction as an appropriate topic of conversation. Even with the birth of my younger brother, no mention was ever made of my mother’s pregnancy and she masterfully hid the upcoming event until the day she disappeared and then inexplicably, arrived back home a few days later with a new addition to the family.
My parents never showed much outward affection toward each other and even after I had learned a little about the birds and bees, I could not fathom the act my parents must have performed to bring Angelo and me into existence.
My experience with the opposite sex was quite limited and gradual in its progression. When I was nine years old, two neighborhood children were my constant companions. Johnny was ten and his sister Molly was eight. We spent our free time climbing trees and roaming the arroyos looking for blue-bellied lizards and horny toads. Sometimes we hung around an old tool shed made of rotting two-by-fours. It was situated on the back end of an overgrown field filled with weeds and scraggly pinion trees. The roof leaked and the lock had long been broken. Nothing remained in the shack except for a few rusty pipes and wrenches. It was in this place that I began to unravel the mysteries of sex.
Johnny had stumbled upon a Playboy magazine at Gus’s barbershop while he was waiting for his monthly crew-cut. Gus was a large, red-haired man who had learned to cut hair in prison. His massive forearms were covered with tattoos as graphic as any Playboy centerfold. All the boys in the neighborhood received the same standard-issue prison style haircut creating the effect of having a mob of miniature inmates running around.
There was a section in the barbershop for adult materials and one for family reading. Somehow the barrier was traversed and Bobby slipped the forbidden publication into one of the sleeves of his jacket.
For a while, the magazine became the focus of our attention and horny toads and lizards faded in importance. It depicted photos of full-breasted women with long legs and hour-glass figures stepping out of bathtubs or lying on beds with pouting lips. Another pictorial showed couples in simulated sex positions absorbed in blissful contact with half-closed eyes.
We mostly laughed and found the whole thing wildly entertaining and ridiculous. However, we soon became bored and the magazine was ignored.
In addition to Rudy’s older sisters, I was enamored with Rudy’s pet monkey, “Chango.” How and when the monkey had come to be part of the Gonzales’s household no one seemed to remember. But the wild, uncouth creature resided in a tall, chicken-wire cage on the back porch.
Chango was a ferocious ball of uncontained energy. The monkey glared at anyone who approached his cage and screeched wildly as he shook at the wire enclosure. I was fascinated and repelled at the same time. I shuddered to think what might happen if the demented animal ever escaped.
Chango was fed through a small opening at the bottom of his cage. He reeked with a foul odor and he didn’t take kindly to infrequent attempts to clean his cage. Once, Chango did escape from his prison when the Gonzales family was away. Somehow a piece of wood gave way and exposed an opening just large enough for the monkey to squeeze through. However, before he managed to pry himself out, he gashed his hand on a strand of jutting wire. As Chango explored and climbed almost every inch of the Gonzales’s home, he left bloody palm prints everywhere imaginable. Monkey blood covered curtains, walls, furniture, sinks and there was even blood on the ceiling. No one could ever figure out how he managed to perform this gravity-defying feat. It took the Gonzales family weeks to remove the traces of Chango’s brief flight of freedom.