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>Perico, Alejandro, Ramon & Las Elodias

May 2, 2010


I estimate I spent  probably eighty to ninety percent of my time with Perico, Alejandro, and Ramon. We were a tightly knit group, with Perico as our leader. Later posts will be about sneaking into the drive-in under his leadership, going to a wrestling match, a whorehouse, and the week he became my “trainer/manager” for a fight I was going to have.
Perico, Alejandro, Ramon
Even though I kept a foot in the American teen community, most of my time was spent with three close Mexican friends who also went to Cervantes. Two of them were brothers, Alejandro and Pedro Montanez, referred to by their nicknames, Alejo, short for Alejandro, and Perico, which means parakeet. The third was Ramon Hashid Martinez, a Mexican-Lebanese boy who lived next door to the Montanez brothers on Avenida del Parque, just a block from my house.

The first time I went into Perico and Alejo’s house I thought it strange that the refrigerator was in the dining room, in full view of anyone who came in. When I mentioned this to Mom, she said it’s because Mexicans were proud of having a refrigerator and wanted to make sure everyone saw it. I wasn’t so sure. Maybe the house had been built before refrigerators were common in Mexico and there was no space for it in the kitchen.

Telephones in Mexico were as hard to find as a taxi on a stormy day; they were a luxury that only the very wealthy could afford. If we needed to use a phone, the nearest one to our house was a pay phone in a farmacia several blocks away on Avenida de las Rosas. This lack of phones led to one of the first customs I picked up, whistling for my friends. It worked like this: I’d go over to Perico’s or Ramon’s and, rather than knock at the door, I’d stand in front of the house and whistle a pattern of notes. I’d repeat it at five to ten second intervals for up to a minute. At some point one of the boys would come out or, if they weren’t home, another family member stuck a head out the window. “¡No estan!” – they’re not here! Even Mom responded to the whistles when I wasn’t home. She’d open the door and yell out, “¡No esta!”

There were two whistling patterns we used, one of seven notes and one of five, both of which I still remember. (For the musically inclined, the seven-note pattern was E-E-B-B-A-A-B, glissando back to E; the five-note pattern was
B glissando to E-F#-A#-B.)

We weren’t the only ones to use these signal whistles. On my bike rides around Colonia Chapalita, I regularly came across other boys standing outside a friend’s house and whistling a pattern of notes, sometimes the same ones we used, sometimes different. Drop me off today in front of Perico’s house on Avenida del Parque, I’ll whistle and he’ll come out.
SNAPSHOT: A party at Perico and Alejo’s house. Perico’s mother, gray hair pulled back tightly, glasses resting on the end of her nose, sits in a blue and white-checked easy chair, hands clasped in front of her. Several people are gathered around behind, smiling. Perico is on one knee in front of his mother. One hand is positioned dramatically over his heart. With the other he’s holding one of his mother’s hands.
Alejandro and Perico were very different, both in character and physical appearance. Alejo, a year older and not as tall as Perico, was quiet, going along with whatever the rest of us decided. He was friendly with a sly little grin and a quiet sense of humor. He wore glasses and had an unruly shock of light brown hair, unusual in Mexico. Perico, my age and taller than any of us, was slender with dark curly hair. In contrast to Alejandro he was energetic and outgoing – impulsive, even. He enjoyed being the center of attention. At a party one night at his house, I watched him dance continuously with his mother or his sister or any other female who would dance with him. And it didn’t make any difference if it was a Benny Goodman swing number or an Agustin Lara bolero, Perico was out there dancing. At one point his mother’s favorite song was on the record player. Perico got down on one knee in front her, took her hand and sang the song to her, dramatically, with gestures and flourishes. I couldn’t imagine doing that with my Mom.
SNAPSHOT: Another party at Perico and Alejo’s house. A dozen or more of us sit in chairs or stand along the walls enjoying Perico do his Elvis impersonation. His arms are in the air, fingers spread, hands twitching. His head is cocked down to the right and his hips move back and forth, in and out, over outspread legs. It’s actually a pretty good imitation.
Perico was our acknowledged leader but there was one area where he conceded me superiority: dancing to American rock and roll. He loved the music almost as much as I did and it was a kick to watch him imitate Elvis, sneering, gyrating, arms akimbo, singing the English lyrics to Elvis’s “Hound Dog” as he heard them: “Joowayne notin’ buuh haundog, akryin’ allatime, joowayne nehr cah a rammit, joowayne no fren a mine.” He was always pestering me to bring over rock and roll records and teach him how to dance. I’d dutifully bring them over, put one on his record player and show him some of the steps I did. He practiced them diligently but never quite got the feel for the music, although that never stopped him from putting on a show at the next party.
Las Elodias
 SNAPSHOT: Elodia, fourteen and Berenice, thirteen, are sitting on an inside window sill of their house, hands on the black wrought iron bars. Elodia’s short, dark hair frames her broad, square face. She’s not very attractive, certainly not in contrast to her sister, Berenice, whose equally dark hair falls to her waist. She has beautiful eyes. The girls are blushing at something Perico has just said.
SNAPSHOT: Ramon, Perico, Alej,o and I are grouped around a large bush just below the window where the girls are sitting, our necks craned slightly up as we talk with them and they flirt with us.
Meeting “Las Elodias,” (the Elodia girls) gave me my second taste (after Georgina) of just how different relations between boys and girls were in Mexico.

“C’mon,” Perico said one day, “Vamos a ver las Elodias,” let’s go see the Elodia girls. They lived about four blocks from Perico’s house on Avenida del Parque. There were eleven children in the family, ranging in age from infant to fourteen. The oldest was named Elodia so we always talked about ”las Elodias.”             

Senor Elodia (as we called their father) worked and their mother, dona Mercedes, tended the little store set up in their garage. The girls could come outside and talk with us only when dona Mercedes was in the store. Otherwise we could talk only through open, but barred, windows. They were never allowed to leave the yard except in the company of their family. Visiting las Elodias was much like my earlier visits with Georgina: the girls were constantly chaperoned, watched over, guarded as if they were rare, delicate specimens to be preserved. Here again, I saw that boy-girl relationships in Mexico were considerably more difficult than what I was used to. Girls were zealously protected by their families, both for tradition and for the sake of the family’s honor. A girl alone with a boy was considered “loose,” and it reflected badly on the family. I would find out later that only when they were close to marrying age, and showed signs of wanting to be married, were the barriers let down and the couple allowed to be together, alone. I would also find out later just how dangerous it could be to ignore this cultural norm.
2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 3, 2010 7:31 pm

    >Still trying to picture you dancing to Elvis…Bopstopper

  2. May 4, 2010 3:23 pm

    >Better than dancing with him, I suppose . . .

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