Sunday, August 21, 2011

Excerpt 1 of Untitled Book Proect

A Quick Note:This is the first in a serial, an untitled, unfinished, unedited book project I've been writing for the past few years. You can read my introductory column Here.
The serial will run for 6 to 7 installments over the next two months. Feedback is encouraged.
Thanks for reading - Marc Cabrera

A foggy night in Salinas is colder than a slap from mom. Ant thought to himself as he braced to climb the drainage pole leading up to the Steinbeck High School rooftop. He figured his mother's reaction would be an ice-fisted slap to the cheek if she saw her boy preparing for rooftop mischief. A nice, stinging, open-hand right to the kisser. The night fog hung in a blotchy mist, covering the stars in a blanket of dark smoke. The valley hid in the shadows.

Ant climbed the rain gutter like an extremely amateur telephone pole engineer scaling an electrical pole. He was careful to balance his toes on each peg, measuring his weight with each step. This was routine for him. Over the summer, the school rooftop became the official hangout spot for him and his homies Danny, Zamudio and Arnel.

"Hey Ant, try not to fart on my face this time," Arnel said as he followed Ant up the pole, his short, solid frame easing its way up the metal facade. "You got me with my mouth open last time. I almost puked."

"This time I'm gonna drop a deuce in there" Ant said, drawing chuckles from Danny, who was already up top and looking down at the rest of them. Zamudio was on the ground, waiting for Ant and Arnel to get up far enough to scale the 20-foot pole.

Arnel snorted his laugh and kept climbing, not garnering a response. Ant climbed up the last few feet before reaching up and grabbing Danny's hand, careful to lean his body forward and over the raised ledge that outlined the rooftop. He pulled his right leg over the edge of the roof, followed carefully by the left leg. Arnel sped up right behind, his light frame flipping over the edge in a gymnastic half-flip.

That left the lumbering Zamudio to trudge up the pole with the speed of a low-rider cruising East Alisal Street on a packed Sunday night. His first name was Anthony, but the crew called him Zamudio because there were already two Anthony's.

Anthony Reyes had been called Ant since he was an elementary school sugar freak - his mom used to call him holmiga because he always wanted sugar.

Anthony Zamudio became Zamudio because everyone in his 300-block of Toro Avenue started using his last name whenever it came up, as in "Did you hear Zamudio kicked Antwon's ass?" Or "Did you hear Zamudio got busted for bringing a knife to school?" Zamudio also had the odd pronunciation with "moody" in the middle, and although that was just coincidence, it wasn't by much. Eventually that was shortened to the easier to pronounce Z.

"Hey Z, can you go a little slower? School's gonna start by the time you get up here," said Danny.

"Hell naw. We're all gonna be seniors by the time his big ass gets up to the top" said Ant, letting out a cackle that pierced the fog and spouted a dragons breath of chill from his narrow mouth.

"You want me to go down there and carry you up?" Arnel tried to add on to the cap fest. "I can jump down and climb up and push you from the bottom"

"I bet you'd like to push him from the bottom, huh" said Danny, the resident cap artist. When Danny saw an opening, he exploited it. "Bottom pusher."

"Shut up! I'm trying to concentrate!" said Z, his usually kick-back demeanor lost in his loud bark, a bark not nearly as ferocious as his black-eye inducing bite.

Z pulled his way up the final few feet, his stocky frame clinging to the skinny pole for precious life. Ant, Danny and Arnel stepped up and helped pull Z over the ledge. Z gave a slight grunt and heaved his cumbersome frame onto the rooftop. The fact that he could balance six-foot and
200-lbs plus on a thin, steel pipe, 20 feet, was no minor feet of athleticism. Z could have been a killer tight end or power forward if he wanted to. He could have been anything if he wanted to be anything at all.

"Hey girl. Are you done being a chavala?" Danny said impatiently, as Z kneeled on the rooftop for a minute. "Can we get out of the light before the cops see us?"

"Man, ain't no cops around here. You're always paranoid" said Ant, his hands reaching into the large pocket in front of his favorite, black San Francisco Giant's hoody. He touched through the short stack of folded papers in his fingers, barely paying attention to what he was saying.

"Besides, bigfoot here would just sit on them if they came up."

"I’ll stomp on them if they get crazy," Z said again with a snort, finally getting up and walking towards the spot where they normally kicked it. Arnel followed behind, while Danny and Ant took up the rear. Each boy exhaled a gust of chilled air in the thick night.

Danny took a seat near the ledge, his back facing the school swimming pool and about a 20 foot drop into some extra-cold water. Ant sat on Danny's right hand side, throwing on his hood and giving a quick shiver, a reaction to the valley cold. It was the end of summer, school was going to start and already the fog was doing its worst to prepare Salinas's young people for an autumn of discontent.

"Man, we live in Cali and we still get shitty weather out here," said Arnel, taking a seat on the ground just to the left of Danny. Zamudio dusted off his brown khakis and oversize army jacket before plopping down next to Ant. The four boys huddled on the dank rooftop as part of their Sunday night ritual, all hoodies and tennis shoes and hormones and misguided innocence, trying to warm up without letting the other one know they were cold.

"It's the curse," Ant said to Arnel. "The curse of John Steinbeck."

"What you talking about? That ain't true. That's like one of those old lies, like the haunted tree on Old Stage Road and shit," said Danny. As he talked, he pulled out a small tin box that contained his personal possessions: a bag of weed, a pack of cigarettes, rolling papers, scissors, a round shredding device, and eye drops.

"It is true. And that haunted tree on Old Stage is where they used to hang Mexicans back in the day," Ant said, defensive and matter of fact in one shot. "The curse is true, my dad told me about it."

"What is it?" said Z, who now had his arms wrapped around his knees to try and ball up his body for warmth.

"It's the spirit of John Steinbeck. He wrote all these books back in the day, like the Red Pony and The Pearl. Stuff they made us all read in school," Ant said, as all three nodded in agreement.

"Anyway, back in the day he used to write all kind of stories that pissed off the rich farmers in Salinas."

“Man, I remember the Red Pony," Arnel said, his voice a pubescent screech. Arnel was the smallest and least developed of the crew. "That stupid book where the dad kills his kid's pony or something like that?"

“No, dumbass, the pony dies and the dad doesn't do anything to console his son," said Z out of nowhere. "What was up with Steinbeck pissing people off?"

"Anyway, he used to write these books that, like, talked about poor people. Farm workers and stuff. He would write them and the white farmers here all got pissed because he was dissing them. And, anyway, they burned his books and Steinbeck got pissed and kept writing, and he left Salinas and never returned. But before he did, he cursed the city because they didn’t support his work. So when he died, he said he didn't want anything named after him, but they went ahead and named the school after him. He got so pissed that he gave us all this fog and crappy weather. That's why it's never sunny here in Salas, because even though Steinbeck never returned, his spirit refused to leave. That’s why it's the curse of John Steinbeck. That’s what my dad told me."

The boys sat silent for a second, save for the sound of Danny rummaging through his weed box.

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