Sometimes Life hands you a gift when you are least expecting it. And I could have missed or dismissed it completely, except that I didn’t–thank goodness.
Last night I invited Lover over to mine, for a change. It was a sweltering 101 degrees, and I did not feel like going out into the world.
“It’s too people-y,” I said, making a face I knew he couldn’t see.
“People-y,” he agreed over the phone. It’s such a relief not to have to explain my slang short-hand; he has always known what my weird mash-up words and invisible scrunched up expressions mean.
Today it means, I can’t deal with crowds and strange colognes and the crush of a hundred inane conversations.
I sweetened the deal by saying I would make nachos, although Lover doesn’t mind when I don’t feel like going out. He sometimes has the same moods.
What’s so great about nachos? you might ask.
I am a pretty damn good cook–that’s what’s so great about them, I would answer, without a shred of hubris. Tonight I would make a green chili sauce with roasted red peppers and jalapenos and a tiny bit of cactus, spiced with cumin and pepper and lemon and many other pinches of this n that. For cheese I had a lovely wheel of sriracha gouda, pepper jack, and mozarella.
All of this was at hand, but what I needed were carnitas and home-style refried beans. With the temperature climbing, I decided to go to the neighborhood shop to pick these up.
La Esperanza is a fixture on Franklin Boulevard. There are three parts: a bakery, a market, and a Mexican deli. Which means there are no sandwiches but burritos and carnitas and all kinds of deliciousness. When I arrived, I got in the line that already trailed out the door. I knew that sometimes the carnitas and frijoles sold out, so that was my first stop.
After five minutes, there was a ripple as a murmur came down, passed politely from person to person: No hay carnitas hasta a las 5. (There are no carnitas until 5.)
I turned and conveyed the message in Spanish. So tightly were we all compressed into the small shop, the people from the back needed to disperse before we could all turn and leave. However, here we are all one people, patient and at peace with the way it is.
The woman behind me, a tiny grandma with a poof of white hair, nodded and told the lady behind her the same thing. Within another minute the line loosened and we all set off elsewhere. As I was leaving, I heard the grandma behind me say in Spanish to her companion, “That was the surprise of my life when that girl spoke in Spanish!”
I turned and grinned, waved, and they both waved back with wide smiles, laughing. I have heard variations of this my whole life, because even in summer I am very light-skinned.
But let me break this down as to why this is not an insult but a compliment. First of all, she knew I could hear her. Second, she called me “girl”, niña. This is usually used for children, under-twenty, but it is also an affectionate nickname for any younger woman in a family. If she had called me mujer, woman, it would have marked me as a stranger. If she had called me güera, white girl, it would have been a bit demeaning.
But instead she called me niña, as she would any of her daughters or her grandchildren or her friend’s daughters or her grandchildren. Meaning I belong, I am one of them.
I picked up what I needed from the market, watermelon and mint for a salad, and then crossed into the panaderia for creme-filled donuts. (They are seriously the best, of anywhere I have ever been.)
Back home, I messaged Lover that it was now his duty to swing by and pick up carnitas and frijoles at 5 before coming over, as I needed to make salsa. (I also needed to vacuum, swipe and wipe down the bathroom with Lysol, and generally hide a week’s worth of I-don’t-care mess by shoving it into the closet.)
He showed up nearer to six, but he had all the things I needed. “They definitely did not expect me to order in Spanish, like you do,” he said, a lanky bald white man brushing 6’2. “But there was a huge line, mostly men, when I got there.”
“The fight!” I blurted out, and I started laughing. “Mexicans love boxing! The McGregor/Mayweather fight is tonight! I bet they’re all having get-togethers and no one wants to cook because it’s so hot.”
When I was younger and Oscar de la Hoya was hot, it was practically a national holiday any time he was in a match. Our extended family would crowd into the room with the biggest TV to watch, cheering and eating and muttering dire curses against his contenders.
I thought of the little old ladies, laughing and waving at me, and suddenly I didn’t feel so lonely. I have people, people who are mine even though they do not know me.
There was more that happened this evening, but that is for a different post. For now, I’ll leave you with the image of me standing at the stove, stirring green chili salsa and humming “Como La Flor”.
Jenny “Call me Yenny” Lorenzo, who is to die for funny. Check her out on https://wearemitu.com/ and YouTube.