Lucas made the team and he got that starting spot at 2nd that we’ve been working towards for a year now. A bunch of us are excited for him, including all of Chuy’s family. They invited us to join them for a birthday party for Abel (in case y’all forgot who’s related to who, Abel is Chuy’s brother) this past Sunday.
Let me tell y’all: it was quite an event.
Chuy’s got a house in Alhambra, and that’s where the party was…and it turns out that ‘a few members of the family’ was over 30 people. Except for me and Lucas, everyone seemed to be a cousin, nephew or niece, since Chuy and Abel have a sister who still lives in Mexico, but who has three kids living here now. In addition Chuy, Aracely, Abel, Lupe, Eric and Abelito there were Abel and Lupe’s kids, Abelillio, Lupita and Erica. I know: everyone in that family seems to have the same names lol. There’s even a fourth Abel, one of our Abel and Chuy’s nephews. Since all the nicknames for ‘Abel’ were already taken when Abel numero 4 got to this country, this Abel is known as ‘Abel de las flores’, since he’s a gardener, while they call the Abel I know ‘Abel de los tacos’.
There was a lot of superfast Spanish being spoken, although everyone who could was real nice and spoke English when I was around. Lucas has been speaking Spanish to the housekeeper (another Guadalupe, if y’all remember) since he was a little kid, so his Spanish is great, but I’ve only been picking it up since I got to California. I knew a few of the men from the baseball team, and pretty soon everyone was using my Spanish baseball nickname (el cazador), which is cool with me for 2 reasons: (a) I don’t want Chuy’s family calling me el guapo, and (b) none of the Mexican’s I’ve ever met can pronounce my name properly. Y’all maybe know how ‘home run’ comes out ‘jonrón’; in the same way ‘Hunter’ comes out ‘juntAIR’.
There was plenty of beer (all of it Mexican), but mostly there was food. Mom always puts out a good spread, but I’ve never seen this much food at a birthday party before in my life. There were tamales (I understand Lupe and Aracely were working the late shift with Lupe’s mother, Doña Mercedes), and they were awesome. I think I had 5, but they were just the tip of the iceberg. There was a huge pot of what was somewhere between a soup and a stew with hominy and some other stuff in it which I dug into and really liked.
“Dude,” said Lucas when he saw me going back for seconds, “do you know what you’re eating?”
“Not really, no,” I said, with a laugh. “But I’ll try just about anything. Do you know what it is?”
“Cow stomach. It’s too fuckin gross to look at let alone eat.”
I have to admit that the cow stomach looked kinda weird, but, hey, I eat cow tongue and head…so why not the stomach? It’s all part of the same animal, right?
Lucas obviously didn’t agree. But there was so much else to eat that he clearly wasn’t gonna starve.
There was what looked like 50 pounds of carne asada done on the grill – that was Chuy’s department – and it was awesome too. Then there were fuckin hugeass bowls of beans and rice (good red Mexican rice…not the parmesan Rice a Roni Chuy gets at the 99¢ store lol). They also had the biggest stack of tortillas I’ve ever seen, plus chips and a whole bunch of different salsas. There were also platters of different kinds of taquitos, and then the women brought out several pans of chicken enchiladas, covered in salsa verde, cheese and sour cream.
While Chuy was doing the meat we heard this funny horn (kind of like what clowns have) come from the street…and soon a woman came by pushing a shopping cart. Me and Lucas were both in the front yard, and someone called to the woman to stop. She was clearly selling something, but I wasn’t sure what.
Turns out it was corn on the cob, and I think we sold her out for the day. But it wasn’t just corn, it was a whole thing. First she stuck the corn on a wooden stick, then she coated it with mayonnaise, grated cheese (not parmesan…there’s a grated Mexican cheese that I’m sure was one of the cheeses in the enchiladas), something else I never found out what it was, then chili powder and a final spray of lime juice. Corn and mayonnaise may sound pretty weird to some of y’all, but it was some of the best corn on the cob I’ve ever had…and I’d like to think that we southerners know a thing or two about corn on the cob. The Mexicans were all surprised I didn’t know about elote and the vendors who make the rounds of most latino neighborhoods. I tried to explain that the blue-eyed gringo didn’t live in a latino neighborhood and I never had menudo (that’s the cow stomach and hominy stew) before either.
I may have liked the enchiladas the most, although even I was so full by that point that I could only have one helping. After that all I could do was sit down with a last beer and the cigar Chuy offered me and try and digest. Lucas looked just as full as I was and him and Eric, who are usually super active, had to sit down after all that food too. Maybe I shouldn’t tell y’all this, but Chuy gave both boys cigars (but he drew the line at letting them have any beer.) They clearly thought that made them look grown-up. It was kinda cute.
“You know there’s dessert coming, right?,” Lucas asked me.
“Yeah. My uncle’s birthday cake,” explained Eric. “And,” he added with a big laugh, “ice cream. Lucas told me about it and you.”
“Then you know I can eat until I pass out and then still have a sundae when I recover consciousness.”
“Yeah…but I wanna see it,” said Eric. “Although watching el cazador attack two bowls of menudo without knowing what the fuck he was eating was the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time. You know plenty of Mexicans won’t go near it. Like it totally grosses Abelito out…but he doesn’t like Mexican food.”
“Why not? Mexican food is awesome.”
“All he likes is pizza and In ‘n’ Out. He hates eating picante.”
“And he’s Mexican??,” I asked, wondering how a Mexican couldn’t like hot food.
Clearly all the other Mexicans did, since all the food at the party was fuckin hot. They didn’t spare the chili because a couple of gringos were coming. I enjoyed it, although some of it was hotter than I like, but there was only one thing that really set my tongue on fire. It was a salsa that some of the men were eating with tortilla chips and shots of tequila. I figured el cazador would be able to handle whatever they were eating…but this shit really made me think my tongue had caught fire. Y’all can’t imagine how hot it was. It was like the ‘atomic’ wings at Wingstop…times 10. Abel de las flores said I should take a shot of tequila on top of it, but, while that may work for Mexican men, I knew that wasn’t gonna work for a blue-eyed gringo. Then someone else told me to lick my wrist, sprinkle on some salt, and then lick the salt. After I tried that a few times the fire started going down some, but I was still feeling the heat twenty minutes later. Of course everyone thought I was totally hilarious, but, to be fair to me, that was the only time I couldn’t keep up with the natives. All things considered, I did a dang good job eating picante for a good ole southern boy who didn’t grow up eating food that hot. I did better than Lucas, who refused to be tricked into eating the insane salsa…although Eric kept trying to get him to.
They waited a whole hour before dessert. Everyone must have been as super full as I was, and the women needed time to clear away all the plates and shit.
When it was brought out, dessert meant another shitload of food.
The cake was a huge rectangle with white frosting and candles, and I knew it was a pastel de tres leches, which is what the Mexicans have for birthdays and stuff. I’ve had it before, so I knew what it was: a yellow cake soaked in sweetened condensed milk (the stuff I love on ice cream), evaporated milk and some other third kind of milk. It’s wet when you eat it, and very sweet, although very sweet never bothered me none. This was by far the best of the few pastel de tres lecheses I’ve had, and I found out why: Aracely baked it herself. It also turned out to have whipped cream on top in place of the frosting that’s been on the other ones I’ve eaten…and that’s a big improvement.
So I had a big piece of cake, and then I had some ice cream. That they had in a bunch of weirdass Mexican flavors. One of them was Smurf blue (I’m not kidding) and tasted like bubble gum, another I was told was “mommy” or something like that, a fruit I’d never heard of that made kind of a cantaloupe-colored ice cream that was pretty good. Of course there had to be bright green lime flavor too…it was like a whole rainbow of half a dozen ice cream colors, with chocolate, vanilla and strawberry nowhere to be found. But there was a squeeze bottle of sweetened condensed milk, and I squirted it all over my ice cream. It was especially good on the mommy flavor, although the one that grew on me the most was the Smurf blue one.
But that still wasn’t all: right in time for the cake a bunch of mariachis showed up, in full costume with the bigass hats and embroidered suits. I think there were like 7 of them. Of course they played the Mexican birthday song which everyone sang, and then they played a whole mess of other songs that everyone knew, except for me and Lucas. That was maybe the only time that I felt like I didn’t quite fit in, otherwise Chuy’s family’s hospitality was wonderful and I think I’m safe in talking for Lucas and saying that we both really did feel like family.
We certainly did feel that way when Abel interrupted his own birthday party to say we were also there to celebrate Lucas making it onto his school’s baseball team as the starter he wanted to be, and to celebrate the ‘maestro di beisbol’ who helped him. The applause and cheers (there were both) belonged to Lucas, though, and I was back to being super proud of him.
That was followed by the mariachis playing ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’, for which the lead singer somehow knew Spanish words. I’m not sure I’ll ever hear that song the same for the rest of my life lol.
Then Abel, Lupe, Aracely, Eric, Abelito and Chuy all came forward to give Lucas a present. It was a small jewelry box, and contained a very nice small gold and silver medallion of…y’all guessed it…the Virgin of Guadalupe. Eric told his parents about how Lucas got a gold chain with nothing on it for Christmas and how he’s been looking for the right thing to put on it. Not that he’s Catholic or Mexican, but I think he found the thing he was looking for in the little medallion. He looked real pleased and took off the chain and put the medallion on it right away.
After that the mariachis played some more, and, for the final event, Chuy brought out a piñata. It looked like Olaf and was pretty dang cute, and I thought it was gonna be a shame to beat the crap out of it. (Apparently the choice of piñata was by Abel’s kids and they’re still totally into Frozen II.) I’ve never seen Mexicans do a piñata, although we’ve had them at Block family birthday parties from time to time. Dang do the Mexicans take it seriously. They had Abel double blindfolded and Chuy was in charge of pulling up and down on a string to make it harder for Abel to hit the piñata. And, oh yeah, he had a wood baseball bat to attack poor Olaf with. Let’s just say that, if you got upset at the scene where Olaf flurries away in the movie, you weren’t gonna like seeing pieces of him all over the ground after Abel knocked the piñata to smithereens.
Inside was a lot of candy, a bunch of little toys and some more grown-up surprises, like some scratchers and some money, as in bills. Those were mostly singles, but there was one $50 bill as a grand prize for whoever got it. (Abelito did, although he practically had to knock down a few of his cousins to get it. That boy may have a future in American football lol.) Lucas and I scooped up some of the candy, not that we were still hungry, and we each took a silly little toy. Lucas got a little plastic tractor that you can wheel around, while I settled for one of those stretchy little fluorescent bracelets. I thought Joyce would get a kick out of it.
Did I say I was full after the ice cream and cake? That didn’t stop either me or Lucas from having another piece of cake when Doña Mercedes came around with some smaller pieces on paper plates.
It was a pretty awesome night, and taught me that Mexicans seriously know how to throw a birthday party. The food was awesome, the beer was great and super plentiful (and since Lucas was driving I didn’t have to worry about having too many), Chuy’s extended family is a great bunch of people (I think the Spanish for that is that they’re ‘buena onda’), the mariachi music was fun (even if I didn’t know any of the songs), and I ate shit I’ve never eaten before, including cow stomach, corn with mayonnaise…and Smurf-colored ice cream. They also made Lucas feel welcome and celebrated, and that made me feel good and, like I told y’all, proud.
Lucas was hanging out with Eric until past 11, which was probably gonna piss Mrs. Andrews off since it was a Sunday night and Lucas had school the next day. He had baseball practice after school too, but this was a special occasion after all…and gave Lucas a chance to celebrate with family (if only an adopted one) for having made it as a starter.
As we were saying buenas noches to Chuy, he said:
“Did you tell him, cazador?”
“Tell him what?,” I asked. I couldn’t remember anything Chuy told me to tell Lucas.
“About next Saturday.”
“What about next Saturday?”
“Oh…didn’t I tell you? Que pendejo soy! We’re gonna be short two players for the game. One’s the chortstop and the other’s the jardiniero central…but our 2nd baseman is willing to play jardin central so Lucas can play segunda base. If he wants to play with us.”
(By the way, ‘chortstop’ is the Spanglish word for shortstop. I looked it up on the Spanish vocabulary on mlb.com and they give ‘jardiniero corto’ or ‘campo corto’ for my position. I like ‘jardiniero corto’ because I think it’s too funny the way the outfielders are called gardeners.)
“You down, man?,” I asked Lucas. I certainly was. I really like playing baseball with Chuy’s team.
“Wow! Of course!,” he said. I could tell he was excited about the idea of playing in a grown-up game (although Eric has played a few games with the team too, usually as one of the jardinieros.) He’s certainly big enough to play against grown men. So we all arranged to meet at the car wash the next Saturday morning so we could drive over to the field together.
“Dang that was fun,” I said to Lucas once we were in the car and headed back to East Pasadena.
“Yeah, it was. Even if I don’t get how you can eat cow stomach.”
“They really are great people. Think of how things would be different if I’d picked out other batting cages instead of the weirdass one with the attached car wash.” I know Pip beat me to that thought in Great Expectations, but it’s true. Knowing Chuy and his family really has changed both my and Lucas’ lives. We’re really lucky to know them.
I was still a little buzzed by however many Dos Equis I drank, so I reckon I may have gotten a little emotional when Lucas dropped me off at my apartment.
“You know I’m fuckin proud of you, right? You fuckin killed it, man.”
“Couldn’t have done it without you, Hunter” Lucas said. He tried to give me a lameass car hug, but I stopped him.
“If you want a hug, get out of the car so we can do it right.”
“Won’t that look gayass?”
“Fuck gayass,” I said. “I’m not used to being proud of my pupils.”
So we got out of the car and there was a big hug with plenty of backslapping to cut down on how gayass the moment was lol. Then Lucas got back in the car and drove off.
And I was left thinking about this being proud of a pupil thing. One thing I knew, even with all I had to drink: it was a good feeling.