We were going to meet at Ester's--they had the strongest margaritas in San Francisco. Armando had told Divina and me that the Health Department had gotten complaints about the drinks being too strong. We all thought that was a strange thing to complain about.
Happily, Carlos was at a table waiting for me when I got there. He had a huge goblet in front of him and, when I sat down, the waiter instantly brought me one, too. "I went ahead and ordered; I told the waiter to hold it until you got here." He looked so sweet, and when he noticed I didn't look like I had before, he seemed to return to being comfortable around me.
"Thanks, Carlos," I said, as I situated myself and looked around. Christmas lights and tinsel were draped everywhere. It was always Christmas at Ester's. I loved this place, and couldn't count how many times I had come here with Divina. What messy times we had had here. I looked over at Carlos.
"Don't you love this place?" I took a sip from my drink. "God, these margaritas are strong."
Carlos nodded his head and took a long sip. "Yeah, they are, but I love tequila. It makes me feel so...so raza." At this he stretched, and it was all I could do to control myself. But his remark gave me a perfect opportunity to get me started.
"You know, Carlos, Armando told me that he saw Vicki Carr in the Mission, buying candles." Actually Divina had told me that, but I didn't want to bring him up.
"Really, I just saw her on Univisión. " Carlos finished up his drink. "Vicki's cool." Carlos seemed very relaxed. This was going pretty well, I thought.
"Hey," I said casually, "do you want another drink? I think I'm going to have one." I took a long gulp and finished my margarita. I was starting to feel kind of relaxed, too. This was easy, I thought. "These are so good. Carlos, did you see Eddie Olmos on Arsenio the other night? He was talking about Rodney King." I felt confident that I sounded appropriately masculine and aware.
"Yeah, I saw that," Carlos said eagerly, as he signalled the waiter politely for two more drinks. "Homeboy was really going on about the L.A. Uprising, wasn't he?" The waiter came by with the drinks and smiled a little too warmly at Carlos for my taste. He did look good, though. His eyes were shining blackly as he became increasingly unwound and started to have fun.
"Raul, you know that class I'm taking on urban development made me kind of interested in L.A., although I really want to live back in Texas. You know I'm just a tejano homeboy, when it comes down to it. I want to work with raza, chill out, and drink cold cervezas in my backyard with my carnales, making fajitas. You know, the Chicano Dream."
I smiled at him and took a long sip from my drink. Poor Carlos didn't know that my dreams for our life together were a bit more urban and grandiose. We were going to be rich and famous Chicano nationalists. We sure as hell couldn't do that in a backyard in Texas. But I decided that for now I needed to concentrate on landing him. "I know, we tejanos never get over Texas, do we?" I noticed Carlos was already half done with his margarita. He really did like tequila.
"Man, these are strong. I feel buzzed already; I guess because I haven't eaten since lunch. What do you want to do, Raul? Where do you see yourself in the future?" Carlos asked this very innocently; little did he know that he would see the future with me. This was a perfect opportunity to let him know that I was just as down as he was on Chicano stuff, only I wanted to be a lot less humble and a lot more enfant terrible.
finished our drinks and ordered two more as I told Carlos that
I wanted to be a Chicano critic, writing astutely and sardonically
about Chicano culture in the mainstream press. I wanted to work
to reach raza everywhere, not in some ivory tower teaching
privileged white kids how to do a close reading of Barrio
"Chicanos need visibility," I thundered, the tequila and unrequited passion mixing together in a lethal blur. I had gotten kind of loud. Carlos didn't seem to mind and we were both silent after my little speech, each of us sipping and gulping our drinks. We ordered two more and, after we finished those, we ordered another round. I drank almost half a glass in one swallow, looked over at Carlos and blurted out, "I need you. I've loved you, Carlos, ever since I met you, and I want you to love me."
Carlos looked absolutely stunned. "Raul, what are you talking about? We're friends, good friends. You're fucked up; you don't know what you're saying." I noticed that his speech had gotten kind of slurred, and he seemed really emotional about what he was saying.
I was far too involved in my true confession to accept that I didn't have a partner in passion, that my friend was straight, and didn't seem to want to change. "Carlos, I know we're meant to be--we're perfect for each other, I'm sure of it." My God, why couldn't I stop myself? It was like I had no control over my mouth at all, I was so drunk, and I was saying all these things despite myself. It was like I had gone past a certain point, and there was no turning back.
"Raul, you're my friend--you know I'm not gay. I like women: I'm involved with Celia; you know that."
I hadn't known that. This humilation was enraging, the second in one week. It was too much. "What do you mean you're involved? What the fuck does that mean? Why didn't you tell me? You knew how I felt about you! You knew I practically got a goddam facelift for you, and now you tell me you're straight." I was a drunk Chicano scorned. Not a pretty picture. I had to get out of here. "Well, just wait, I'll get you eventually, I know I will. I'm not giving up on you after all the shit I've gone through." I got up gracelessly, spilled my drink, forgot my coat, and cried on the BART all the way home.
Now I hated both my comadres, and when I got home I left a nasty message on Armando's machine. Then I passed out.
I woke up with a horrible hangover, made infinitely worse by the hazy memory of rejection. Divina and Armando were hovering over me like anxious vultures. I was still angry at both of them for their stupid advice.
"God, he looks like shit," Divina said, as he put a cold towel on my forehead. "Here, chica, I brought you some Evian and Tylenol. Armando told me you left some incoherent message on his machine, so I figured you got fucked up, especially when he told me you had gone to Ester's. Those margaritas are deadly."
Armando spoke up, "I'm sorry, carnalito, but tell me what happened. Did something go wrong?"
"Everything went wrong. Both you stupid bitches gave me fucked up advice, and now Carlos really hates me. I got too drunk and I told him I loved him. He freaked out. Now I'll never get him. I should never have listened to you two. God, my head hurts." I swallowed three Tylenol and closed my eyes.
you will get him," Divina pronounced. "Armando and
I have come up with the perfect plan." Did these two ever
stop? "We called my cousin Ninfa in Texas. You know, the
curandera. She gave us a huge list of magic things to
do to get Carlos for you. Look, I already had some of them at
home. They've worked for me." Divina put a Macy's shopping
bag on my bed and pulled out candles, oils, powders, and God
knows what else. I was too hungover to protest.
Armando picked up a small bottle of pink powder. "You see, Raul, it's called Ven a Mi. You burn it like incense along with a slip of paper with Carlos' name on it, and he'll call you and fall in love with you."
"Yeah," Divina agreed, "And you burn these candles all the time and write Carlos' name on the back of them in this blank space."
The candles were deep red and one of them had a dramatic bleeding heart on it; the other had hummingbirds, the Aztec symbol of unrequited love. "It absolutely never fails, and I am living proof of it. No one thought I would ever get Juanito. I tell you, comadre, these candles will not let you down. Oh, and this," Divina pulled out a huge red aerosol can, "is called Amor. You spray it all over the house, especially on the phone, and it brings your love to you." Divina started spraying Amor all over my bedroom, while Armando lit the candles and looked for paper to write Carlos' name on.
My comadres are very determined people. I watched them busily performing these magical rites and forgave them temporarily for their bad advice. Maybe I did need a little sorcery; it seemed to be the only thing I hadn't tried. In a short while my room had been transformed into a shrine of love. Sweet-smelling oils burned along with what seemed like hundreds of scraps of white paper with "Carlos" scrawled on them. My comadres' profound faith in the power of all this smoke and ashes rubbed off on me a little and, before the morning passed, we'd all sat on my bed and meditated strongly for Carlos to telephone to profess his true feelings for me.
The days passed and, while the candles burned and the spray can got emptier, Carlos still didn't call. I finally decided to call him. Our conversation was short and polite. He didn't hate me, but something had changed between us: we felt uncomfortable. I knew that eventually we would feel comfortable again, but I also knew that he didn't love me.
Divina and Armando were very supportive. They assured me that Carlos wasn't all that; I would find someone better; these things take time. Divina took me for a facial, and Armando took me drinking. I knew my life would go on, but I also felt a sense of loss for what could have been. My life with Carlos seemed so perfect: it was like a beautiful memory of something that had never happened. I could picture us, together, sharing and making a life together: two Chicano men discovering new worlds, loving each other, respecting each other. Black hair with black hair, body to body, love and passion and heart like only raza can give each other. It would have been unbelievably beautiful, just like a Carmen Lomas Garza painting.