Latino Edge Magazine

 PEOPLE - TRENDS - CULTURES 

Happy New Year

by Tomas J. Benitez

posted on January 7, 2018


Another new year of resolutions, all of which I will pretty much break before the week is out. That is really my tradition, been making resolutions for fifty years, haven’t gotten close to keeping any of them so far. I’ve quit smoking thirty times. I did give up drinking but truth told, I can’t have booze because of my heart meds. Does that still count? Sometimes resolutions are well intended and I think it’s good practice to assess our faults, conscript ourselves to try to do better, and indeed, improve our lives whenever possible. Sometimes resolutions are just a pain in the butt designed to appease everybody else but our own selves. I’ve had several wives and live-in girlfriends who gladly set my resolutions for me over the years, and then were disappointed when I totally betrayed my pledges. Like, how did you not already know that about me? There are good reasons why I am a bachelor.


My all-time favorite resolution is to lose weight. Been making that one since I was fifteen, and even before then I was always a chubby kid. Ah well, I’m out of tamales now, so maybe I will give it one more try. I have a young and beautiful Latina doctor who told me she wants me to cut down, lose at least twenty pounds. I told her I wanted her to put on twenty pounds because I like fuller women. She didn’t even laugh. And this was right before my prostrate exam. Such bad timing, in retrospect.


One pledge I want to make and keep is to start riding my bike again. Before my heart surgery I was a sight to see, all elbows and knees on my beach cruiser, rolling down the streets of East L.A. I once rode the Gold Line to Northeast Pasadena, and then rode all the way back home on my bike. Sure it’s all downhill, but I was flying baby. Of course when I went to the cardiologist and found out about having six heart attacks in the previous year, I realized I could have pumped myself into cardiac arrest that day if I didn’t have the wind at my back. Now, I can’t get the all clear from the heart doctor. He has me on a stationary bike. A kind gift from an old friend. But I am bored to tears on it. I may have to get DVD’s of cross country photography shot from a drone, something to let me pretend I’m moving, like Disneyland. But this year is the year I get back on the iron horse.


Somebody asked me to consider cutting down on my cussing this year, so I broke up with her. I think I made my point because we got back together and now she won’t stop talking dirty to me.


Still it’s good to have some resolutions to aim for, none of us are perfect, I’m the perfect example of that. But at the age of 65 I am somewhere between self-improvement and self-acceptance. I have found peace in my life and my existence. I don’t lack ambition, I still have goals, but I am much more easy going these days. Except for all the ranting and cussing.


I have been careful to stay away from politics on this site. But I will say that this year I will be the first one on the streets to celebrate the impeachment of the fake president. And in the meantime I plan to be more active in my resistance and protest. I gave up marches and big rallies as a social action a few years ago. I figured it was time to step aside and let the kids have their day. The most recent thing I went to was a reunion of all my old lefty friends. I mean old, we all had to take rest breaks during the demonstration. And none of us could have out run the cops! But I have fought all my life, why not one more? That is my only resolution this year, step up the fight for social justice. I know it will make me feel young again, more than even riding a bike.

 

Are There Any Tamales Left Day

by Tomas J. Benitez

posted on 12/26/17


In England, the day after Christmas is called Boxing Day and it is then when they do their gift exchange. In East LA, I call it “Are There Any More Tamales?” Day. Waking up with a hangover from the holiday bustle in new robe or slippers, cutting through all the boxes and wrapping to get to the coffee machine, this is the profile I am likely to have more than any other.


My mother used to love this day. She’d be up early in the morning ready to go, to go exchange gifts if she needed or desired; she was hard to buy for; but more, it was the day to go out and get the deals on leftover Christmas wrapping and ornaments, that were now slashed down in prices up to 80% off at some department stores. She’d load up on these goodies, maybe pick up a few other distaff gems, late gifts now at a huge discount, the “Oh I got you something” gifts for a few folks she would see when she went back to work. As a kid I didn’t mind going with her, although I would have preferred to stay home and break more of my new toys, but the shopping trip the day after Christmas was fun, like touring a war zone to inspect the damage from all the bombing.

    

Mom usually didn’t have a receipt for the gift she was exchanging, and sometimes we weren’t even in the right store, but it didn’t matter. She always managed to prevail over some battle worn beleaguered salesperson, get what she wanted, sometimes even get back money, and walk out of the store happy as a clam.

    

My favorite was the big Sears on Olympic and Soto, because that meant that we would be stopping off at Stan’s Drive In for burgers and fries after she was done. Stan’s used to have drive in service, and they had women and girls in skates and cute skirts who would come right to the car window to take your order. There is no accident that my first sexual fantasies happen to be with women wearing wheels, but that would be later. The prize of the day would be the double thick chocolate malt, so good I can still taste them. Nothing has been that good nor come close over the years, maybe there are a few retro diners in Southern California that have been trying, but nothing will ever replace the ones from memory.

    

When we got home mom would make a big fuss out of saving the old wrapping paper and bows, neatly folding the slightly torn paper in stacks, and then she’d store her new acquisitions with the old stuff, feeling like she had gotten a good head start on next year. As a result, we had a closet full of Christmas stuff that piled up and could never be used up if we tried. Years of deals that never made it back into the light of day, or under the Christmas tree. If the Commies had ever dropped the H bomb on us, and we survived, we would be all set to wrap Christmas presents for everyone in the post-apocalypse.

   

Mom would also store all the Christmas cards, making sure she knew who had sent us one so she could be sure to send one back the following year. When she died I cleaned out a very large box of Christmas cards that had been stockpiled over twenty-five years. It was actually a wonderful afternoon full of memory and tears and laughs as I went through them, remembered all the time we had spent stringing them up each year. Nobody sends Christmas cards anymore, except for maybe politicians and families with newborns share an image of the crying baby sitting with the old wino looking Santa Claus. Nowadays I am flooded with virtual Christmas cards, emailed or texted to me. They are not the same thing although they do convey the same good cheer. But no, not really. I think I will head out to the discount stores this week and stockpile some reduced priced boxes of Christmas cards. Mom would laugh, and be pleased.

 

O Tannenbaum!

By Tomas J. Benitez

posted on 12.18.17

    

My earliest and most joyful memory of Christmas tree shopping was going with my father down to the train yards where the trees first came in and buying one fresh out of the boxcar. It was cold and dark, yet there was hot chocolate and lots of people buying a tree for their homes. Dad didn’t always pay the extra two bucks for the tree base, so often our tree would be quite crooked by the time he did it himself and put the tree up. We always put the favorite ornaments at the top of the tree where the cats couldn’t get to them, although the cats got good at scaling the tree and knocking off ornaments way up high. I didn’t mind as it was the chance to get more ornaments and to keep decorating the tree all the way through the holiday season.


When my parents got a divorce Dad was still on duty to go out and get a tree for me and my little brother, although the quality of the tree declined over the years, and we often got the Charlie Brown tree, more like a branch that was left over from the pickings. But it was still our tree and we enjoyed making popcorn strings, putting up the ornaments that we had made in school, and of course the light on top that was always too big and made the tree tip over a bit.


Years later I was dating a leftie, semi-Commie girl who had no need for a Christmas tree in her apartment. But we were starting to spend most of our time there and I wanted a tree. The compromise was to go down to Moskatels and buy a manzanita branch that was mounted to a base. We decorated the Christmas manzanita with red stars, of course, and very cool Chicano art ornaments, images of Frida, Che, and Zapata. It was a bonifide leftie semi-Commie Christmas tree. We ended up getting married and that tree stayed up all year long. For Valentine’s Day it was decorated in hearts, for Easter, bunnies, etc. We had a child who did his best to emulate the cat and knocked down all the low lying ornaments, but it was our family tree. We loved it.

  

When we divorced, I kept the tree up at my place, and my son would enjoy seeing how I had decorated it with Dodger stuff, or bears, or anything I felt like doing. I was on call for getting him a tree for his mom’s house so I’d come and get him and we’d go buy one at one of the local tree lots. I resented the hustle, two feet of naked branch at the top was meant only to charge us for more tree than we really got, but it was Christmas and I couldn’t say no to my young son.


One year we went out later than usual, and there were no trees to be found. They had sold out at the Home Depot, and all the other lots were empty. My son was devastated. I convinced him that this was the year to buy an artificial tree, they had some good ones that were still on sale.


I personally hated fake trees but I was anxious to be a good dad and to get him something at least. We bought the tree and took it home and put it up. It didn’t smell like a tree, it smelled like heated plastic, but I had already plotted the cure and sprayed the room with Christmas Tree smell from a can. It was a nice tree at that. I promised that next year we would get a real tree. But next year he wanted his tree, so we put it up again. And the year after that. The tree had a warranty of three years so I figured that the third year was the last year.

 

Not so. Fifteen years later, the same tree is still working! My son puts it up in his mothers’ home every season. As for me, my leftie semi-Commie manzanita has not come down in twenty years. It’s still very much my family tree.