Posted by paulrivas on:
The kid is probably 18. He has straight black hair that he likes to
make hang down over his face. He wears black gloves with no fingertips
and black nail polish. The gloves say "Misfits" in hot green. I've
heard him say a couple wacky things before that I can't recall now.
He's pasty white and skinny, and his tone of voice is the one typical
of teenagers and ex-smackheads, who speak absolutely certain of their
own absolute knowledge.
He gets the key from the manager and meets me over at the liquor case. It locks at the bottom, and he crouches down very low to the floor to open it. When he's back up again I point, and he hands me the bottle of Chivas. He slides the glass door closed, balances himself on his left foot, and clicks the lock in ever so smoothly with his right toe. The little punk probably practiced it a thousand times.
As we walk back toward the checkstand, several aisles away in the nearly empty supermarket, I get the urge to tell him something he doesn't know. But how to make it look natural? Hmmm. He'll have heard from my voice that I have a head full of snot right now, I think to myself quickly, so I'll tell him why I'm buying the whiskey. He won't even know what hit him.
"Scottish people drink this with sugar, lemon juice and hot water, for colds," I state simply, still walking steadily toward the empty checkout lanes.
"I know," he fires back. "My grandma's full-blooded."
His answer makes me feel as though suddenly I have no tongue. He has delivered a crippling verbal blow, saying something so unexpected that I am literally powerless to continue the duel. As I consider it now, I realize I shouldn't have been surprised that he would say he already knew what I was trying to teach him. Yet I still can't fault myself for being blindsided by hearing the words "full-blooded" in reference to anything other than an American Indian or a hound.
The Chumash Casino would have been a much more likely place than Vons on Fairview to hear such a thing, not so much because of the Indian thing but more because I expect to hear stranger things from gamblers than I do from bagboys. In fact, I heard something equally remarkable on my last trip there.
The man is one of the sunburned alcoholics who frequent the Chumash poker room, a lifer. Tall and thin, everybody knows his name. He's playing at the $2/$5 no-limit hold 'em table, where one hand he loses $250 on aces up when two other players have straights, which doesn't faze him in the least. He's having fun, and really having fun, not like so many others who are playing for reasons they can't begin to explain while forever trying to convince themselves that losing money they couldn't bring themselves to just burn is "fun". He's a genuine presence in the room, somebody people look forward to seeing. He's a pleasure to play with, even if he takes your money. The dealers like him because he plays right and tips.
There's a lull in the action. The Mexican-looking dealer, who is both barrel-chested and fat, mixes the cards into a pile before placing them in the automatic shuffler. His hair is springy and wet looking, the stuff the best Mexi Mulletts are made of. By any measure his head is enormous, its mass the only thing keeping it from rolling off its owner's water tank of a torso. Everyone at the table is engrossed in something. For a second, the players forget everything and concentrate entirely on their chosen outlet for nervous energy between hands. Stacking and restacking their chips, they almost don't notice the lifer's question to the dealer: "Are you still saving up for a neck, José?"
Then they do notice, and laugh heartily.
Rivas Cultural Services
Santa Barbara - Mexico City - Buenos Aires