A Blanquito In El Barrio
by Gil Fagiani
UNDER THE FERRIS WHEEL
I looked up to them:
Count--his real name,
Heriberto Colón Hernández--
warlord during the glory days
of aristocratic, street fighting gangs,
and Nandy--Dandy Nandy--
former second tenor
of the 103rd Street Latineers,
a guest once on Symphony Sid's radio program.
Together they'd schooled me
--college dropout, utopian do-gooder—
in the ways of the streets:
la buena gente, la mala gente,
the trustworthy, the honorable,
the whores, hustlers,
títeres, and cutthroats.
They taught me
how to slap five,
make verbal jive
Estoy en algo.
The best place to cop
rellenos de papas,
bags of chiba-chiba,
cut-rate jugs of fruit-flavored wine,
Tito Puente and Machito albums.
Things to say to muchachas:
tú me vuelves loco,
But Count and Nandy changed:
long sleeves in 100 degree weather,
legs that couldn't stay straight.
They laughed less,
took off without warning.
I saw them together for the last time
at the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
on 3rd Avenue and 116th.
Squeezing through a crowd
of fine Italian and Puerto Rican mamis,
with a cerveza fria in one hand
and a sausage hero in the other,
I scoped them out under the ferris wheel
picking through weeds,
cardboard boxes of pizza crusts.
“Qué pasa?” I said,
a boss lid cocked over my left eye.
"Something fell out
when we rode the ferris wheel,"
Count said, white-lipped,
the bones of his shoulders showing.
dropped to his knees,
staring through the holes
of a sewer grating.
Next she chowed down on two blood sausages
thick and black as a policeman's club.
Then she picked up a fried pig's tail
and ate it like an ice cream cone,
strips of pork sticking out the side of her mouth,
lips a blaze of yellow grease.
I sat quietly nibbling on a potato ball.
"What's the matter, no tiene hambre—
you're not hungry?"
I smiled as a drum roll by Tito Puente