I bought six tamales from Gloria in the parking lot at Stater Brothers when I was folding t-shirts in the laundromat, then ate them at home in the kitchen.
La esposa de Gloria came in to the laundry and said want to buy some tamales? and I said, Gloria? and he said yes. Six for seven dollars, chicken, pork, beef’.
Yes, I said, six, please. Three pork, three beef. Diez minutos, I said, pointing to the parking lot.
I zipped the big army duffel full of socks and t-shirts and shorts, neatly folded, and walked into the sunshine. He followed me to the car, handed me a brown bag with warm tamales, big bronze hands crusted and knotty with two gold rings on his fingers.
Su esposa, una buena cocinera? I said. Yeah, he said. I had her card from before but I never bought them.
I ate two pork tamales, warm, soft, wrapped in banana leaves and thin paper. They were delicious. Rich flavor of roasted pork and not too spicy. I will buy more.
Gloria works the parking lots of the markets on weekends with la esposa. She takes phone orders. I will order more from now on. She will survive because she is a good cook and she works an honest trade. People will buy from people who are honest and work hard.
Patrick, he is a craftsman, he tells me, standing in the small courtyard-driveway between the front and back houses. He lives on the ground floor. He pulls out a tile saw and tools from the shed that hangs over the front of his downstairs flat. He has a weeks worth of gray beard and cheap wraparound silver-framed sunglasse, a red ball cap. He does home repairs, carpentry, tile, cabinetry. I ask him about doing some tile work in my kitchen, maybe installing a sink. He can do that, he says.
It has to be in Claremont, he says. I made a commitment to the environment, so I don’t own a car.
How do you get materials to the house? I ask.
I have them delivered. He has it worked out. He likes to walk, he says.
I buy groceries at the farmers market. It is a few blocks away on Sundays.
I like to stride out, he says. Sometimes people offer to give me a ride. I won’t even get in a car, he says.
I introduce myself and he shakes hands with a strong firm grip common to craftsmen. It is their signature, I think, the way men who work with tools shake hands. It is a signal, I am thinking, that the hands are the important part of their body, of their craft, and shaking hands is a way to communicate trust, integrity. The hands don’t often lie, I think.
He says my name and smiles. We talk about the downtown area, how it feels to walk through town and see the old homes and people who live there, in large craftsman homes, smaller back apartments, one-room add-ons, all kinds of people, I say. We shake hands again, to seal our new relationship, and he says my name again, as if he’ll remember it by saying it out loud.
David is huge and cuts meat at the market where I shop, thick tattooed arms holding little Angelo as he opens the door with the baseball game playing on the television. He lives in a small bad apartment in a unit that is not well kept up. The driveway is gravel and the door jambs are cracked. David says the game on television is the Dodgers’ opening game. They play the Giants, and he says the San Francisco team has a pitcher from Claremont on the mound. I see the pitcher on television a day or two later, his cap pulled down low over intense eyes, straight brim, knee socks and a high leg kick. David is an Angel’s fan, he says.
That’s my team, he tells me. Named my son Angelo. I tell him I shop at his market and we talk about the new refrigerator cases they installed over the winter in one night. I had come from the gym around eleven o’clock when they were ready to close the store and trucks were parked at every angle close to the store and the workers were tearing the old meat cases out. One night they said, it’ll all be installed when by the time you come in to the store.
David works there, he says, two swing shifts, the rest day shifts. His heavy brown arms are laced with blue and black ink. He wears a thin-sleeveless t-shirt. I will give him tickets to the minor league baseball park where I work part time. I have promises now for several people who like to go east to watch baseball, in the small ballpark in the warm evenings with the breeze blowing and the big red-tail hawk doing fly-bys showing his broad wings in the waning sunlight on his way to the top of the left-field light stanchion where he lives for free. Angelo pushes off on his scooter in front of me, twists and falls and rolls perfectly on his side and he jumps up, unhurt, taking the scooter’s handle. Nice fall, I said. Really good.
Later in the afternoon I am back on Patrick’s street, on the other side. My feet are tired, my ankle aches. I see Patrick on the other side of the street holding a glass. We wave. He calls out my name. I crossed the street and Patrick holds out his hand for the firm grip. He wears the silver-framed sunglasses but I can tell his eyes are shining, he is smiling, and he tells me that Ted is next door getting out of his car. I should introduce myself, to Ted, Patrick says. I am getting close to the end of my day, I say.
Go meet Ted, Patrick says.
Ted has a wide smile and says that if Patrick likes you he’ll open up and talk, but otherwise, no, he says. Ted is nice but I feel that Ted talks to everybody. It is more interesting, I think, to talk with Patrick, who lives alone in the downstairs flat with the overhanging shed with the tools, who’s figured out who he is and how he wants to live and is good at it. I have his card. I will car him for repairs and carpentry and I’m already thinking it’s about time to fix my patio so I can use it. It will be warm soon and nice to sit out in the back and have cold iced drinks.