Hector lives the next block over; he is my Mexican friend. I recommend it. Going to another kid’s house feels exotic, like jet setters who visit multiple countries when touring Europe. You partake and note the local customs, music, and food. “Oh, you call this room a den, where I come from, we call it the living room. “
Hector’s mom makes warm tortillas covered with butter. We eat them while watching TV then hide from his sisters, which isn’t easy since there are so many of them. His mother is perpetually pregnant and there seems to be an additional Maria or Elena or Juanita every time I come over.
Hector and his family have a different Jesus. Ours is healthy and active. He holds a lamb and talks to kids; his eyes shine with understanding, hair freshly washed and blow-dried, designer stubble on his jaw. He sometimes looks directly into the camera and smiles or laughs with big white teeth. Hector’s Jesus seems troubled. Our Jesus is akin to a children’s television host, a hip Mr. Rodgers or handsome Captain Kangaroo. Hector’s Jesus looks like an extra from Escape from Alcatraz.
There is one Jesus picture a little different in his garage; huge and felt. In this one, Jesus is a pretty woman with a beard. His right hand raised and tentative about interrupting us. I sometimes look up at him while we play in the garage. “Yes, pretty Jesus, do you have an opinion about how to operate this electric saw?”
I wear my Speedy Gonzalez T-shirt when I go over to Hector’s house, The Looney Tunes’, “Fastest Mouse in all of Mexico”. I’m proud of this choice. While Hector’s mom works in her garden, Hector and I yell “Arriba! Arriba! Andale! Andale! El gringo pussycat problemante? Si, si el gringo pussycat problemante! Hectors mom shoos us out of her tomatoes and laughs. Laughter sounds the same in Spanish. Everybody is happy at Hector’s house, until we burn it down.
Like most kids in the 70s, we were not encouraged to play with fire, but if you ignore boys long enough it happens. Hector’s family, to earn extra money, collects newspapers and phone books for recycling. Every three months they turn in their collection to help pay bills, and I assume, the growing expense of diapers and tortillas. I go with them sometimes knocking door to door or to look in trash cans. We fill up a red wagon and stack it all in their garage.
Jesus looks on as Hector and I roast marshmallows on a little fire in the garage. As the fire spreads we take turns filling glass coke bottles with water and try to poor it on the flames. It is an impossible task. Pouring anything out of a glass coke bottle only comes out in gurgles. The flame is so hot we pour it standing three feet away. Ultimately, we are just pouring water slowly on our own feet as the flames of hell consume the garage.
Exhausted and out of options I turn to Hector, “I think it’s time for me to go home”. I run as fast as I can, my soggy shoes squeaking. I hear Hector’s dad yelling “Vamos! Vamos!” Panic sounds the same in Spanish. Nobody was injured, but nothing in the garage was saved. Not even velvet Jesus.
I rarely saw Hector again, but I have since made lots of warm tortillas with butter, made more Mexican friends, and fires. I seem to still be constantly trying to put out fires. But now, I don’t run away.