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>Antonio & Antonio to the Rescue – Twice

June 13, 2010


Antonio was to have a major influence in all our lives, particularly Mom’s. It started out very positively but ended in terrible fashion, plunging Mom into alcoholism and a depression that never really went away. Antonio died in Chicago in the 70s, estranged from his family.
SNAPSHOT: The man standing next to Mom in the sala is big and powerfully built. He is tall, over two-hundred pounds, broad shoulders, a barrel chest, black hair combed straight back and sporting a small, neatly trimmed black mustache. His eyes are small for such a big man.
Mom smiled. “Antonio, these are my children, David and Valerie. Kids, I’d like you to meet Antonio.” Thus was Antonio introduced into our lives one afternoon in early 1958. I was fifteen.

His hand surrounded, smothered and shook mine, firmly but not with the crushing grip I’d anticipated. He moved to Valerie, going down to one knee to get to her level. “Hola, Valeria,” he said, once again extending his hand. Val, a little embarrassed, took it.

Valerie and Antonio and my sister’s First Communion

“Why are you here?” she wanted to know.

“Your mother and I are going to dinner and I’m here to pick her up.”

“Are you her boyfriend?”

 “Let’s just say we’re friends,” he laughed.

“I think that’s enough questions, Valerie,” Mom smiled, trying to cover her own embarrassment.

His name was Antonio Karam and he was thirty-five. He was from a very wealthy Lebanese-Mexican family and he owned and ran a successful clothing factory. His and his family’s money allowed him to indulge his three passions: racing sport cars, amateur wrestling and raising Doberman Pinschers.

His eyes, which had struck me as being too small, were very expressive. They twinkled when he was in good spirits and flashed when he was angry. His movements were cat-like, graceful for a big man, and he had about him an aura of strength and authority. He laughed often, a deep and resonant laugh, reverberating across a room. He spoke excellent English.

The confirmation that Mom’s relationship with Antonio was more than just a casual one came when the three of us went to watch him race one weekend.

SNAPSHOT: Antonio’s race car of choice is a cobalt blue Porsche. It sits on the flatbed truck that brought it to the racetrack, three hours out of Guadalajara. It sits polished and gleaming in the sunlight. It almost looks haughty.
Racing sports car was the passion of more than a few wealthy young men in Mexico. When we arrived at the track Antonio took us around to look at the cars entered in the race: Corvettes, a Ferrari, several Porsches and others. He talked to us about their handling, their speeds, and told us stories about the drivers, most of whom he knew. Mom was doing a poor job of trying not to look worried. I thought it was all very cool.

An air horn blared. “Ten minutes to race time,” Antonio said and excused himself. We walked over to the spectator area at the start line. Drivers approached their cars and we spotted Antonio in his Porsche adjusting his seat belt and helmet. All pretense of not worrying left Mom. “I hate this! I hope nothing happens to him!”

The cars lined up on the starting line, the starter dropped his flag and
a dozen powerful engines thundered in unison, propelling the cars as if from slingshots.
SNAPSHOT: Antonio’s race car of choice is a cobalt blue Porsche. It sits on the flatbed truck that will take it home again. It’s windshield is spiderweb-cracked, the left front wheel is splayed at an impossible angle and the whole passenger side is one long mangle.
Mom’s fears came to pass on the first lap. Antonio crashed, and almost right in front of us. He skidded out of control coming around the sharp turn into the straightaway and ran into the hay bales lining the course. With only a cut on his arm and a long scratch on his face, the Porsche suffered more damage than did Antonio. Mom was distraught. Crying, she ran across the track to get to him, oblivious to the fact that a race was still in progress. She hugged him fiercely as he got out of his mangled Porsche. Val and I exchanged knowing glances.

I was even more impressed now with Antonio. He was wealthy, handsome, strong, had a cool car, crashed it and walked away. Here was a different perspective on manhood, one that differed considerably from what I envisioned during my time with Jack and Tom and even more from the tough guy dick in the novels I’d read in Guaymas.

Antonio began showing up at our house more frequently and Val and I continued to exchange knowing glances when we saw his car pull up in front. Many evenings they’d go out to dinner or a night club or to visit friends and I’d stay home with Val. Other nights they’d be talking softly and dancing in the living room when I went up to bed. We began seeing Antonio’s car still parked in front when we got up in the morning.

                  Antonio, Val, and Genevieve Davis, Val’s godmother (and Richie’s mom – I hated Richie!)    
                                                                                                                                                                    Mom was happier and more relaxed than I could remember her being in a very long time. Antonio gave her things: a sterling silver cigarette case with her initials inscribed; a sterling silver pendant with a big copper ‘J’; a ring with her initials, JG, in small diamonds. More important, he gave her love.
SNAPSHOT: An American ex-pat in a tight skirt trots awkwardly in the grassy area in front of the drive-in screen, putting her Standard Poodle through its paces in front of the judges and the crowd. More people are back at their cars, scattered around the drive-in, prepping their dogs for show. I’m sitting off to the side of the screen, microphone in hand, announcing the proceedings to the crowd.
We started raising Doberman Pinschers under Antonio’s direction. He had a pure blood male Dobie named Bach and he gave us a frisky female we named Linda, which in Spanish means “pretty”. They mated and we sold the puppies, after cropping their ears and tails, a custom I thought then, and now, as barbaric. We began traveling to dog shows around Mexico, showing our Dobies in Guanajuato, Queretaro, San Luis Potosi and Mexico City. Locally, we showed at Mr. Gran’s drive-in theater, just a couple of blocks from our house. Among the people we met through the Club Canofilo Jaliscience, the Jalisco Kennel Club, were the Ybanez, a Spanish couple who invited me to spend Holy Week with them in Acapulco one year, and Doctor Anaya, a dentist. Accompanying Dr. Anaya was his seventeen-year-old old boyfriend, Rodolfo, who put the make on me one night during a late-night trip back from Mexico City.

             I was lying down in the back of our station wagon when I felt his hand inside my pants leg, rubbing my calf. “¡Ya basta, Rodolfo! ¡Dejame en paz!” My voice was angry but quiet. “Knock it off, Rodolfo! Leave me Because of Mom’s explicit sex ed talks, I knew what Rodolfo was doing on and I had the words to talk about it. Nonetheless, I decided not to. And hi did leave me alone.

Mom was very much in love with Antonio. He was handsome, dashing, debonair and he had a good sense of humor. Being wealthy didn’t hurt, either. He opened the door to a new life for Mom, introducing her to wealthy and influential people she would never have met otherwise. Through Antonio she met Mrs. Meyers, her daughter Lilly and son-in-law, Fernando, all of whom spoke English. Mrs. Meyers was the matriarch of a prominent and wealthy Jewish family in Guadalajara and she took Mom under her wing. Mom was invited to teas, for dinners and outings, to exclusive restaurants, expensive nightclubs and parties. She and Lilly would often go shopping together, although Mom always referred to Fernando as “that horse’s ass!.”

Antonio brought excitement into Mom’s life and he made her feel loved and appreciated. She had a protector and she had something to look forward to each day.

I’m sure he helped us out financially, as well. Dad’s Social Security check was our only source of income and it came to only $256 a month. Our monthly expenses included $55 for rent, $16 for tuition and $16 for Irene and Socorro, our mother and daughter live-in maids. There was a third of our income right there. I’ve no idea how much we paid for utilities, food, clothing, gasoline, car and house repairs, our gardener plus all the miscellaneous expenses any family has, but I don’t think $256 a month would have covered it all, not even in Mexico in the 1950s. Antonio must have supplied the money for our well-stocked bar, for the dinners given at home, the nice clothes for Mom, our trips to dog shows and for doctor visits. His money also bailed me out of two traffic accidents.
*     *     *     *     *
            The lone shadow hanging over Mom and Antonio’s relationship was his family’s refusal to meet Mom or acknowledge her in any way. Antonio and Mom talked about marriage but because of his parents, he said, he could never marry her. Or at least not in a formal church wedding, the only kind that really counted in Mexico. Mom refused to let any of this interfere with her new-found happiness and in 1958 she settled for a civil marriage ceremony.

Antonio and I had a comfortable but not a close relationship. I didn’t resent him and I never felt as though he were usurping Dad’s place in my life. After all, Dad and I never had a close relationship either. I also felt a little awed by Antonio. He embodied everything I now thought I should be, or thought that Mom wanted me to be, but wasn’t. He was handsome, poised, articulate, confident, powerful. He commanded respect. He tried hard to put me at ease. He talked with me about wrestling and the cars he raced, gave me pointers on good grooming and took an interest in how I was doing at school. He never tried to discipline me, leaving that to Mom, but he didn’t hesitate to correct me if he felt I was out of line. Nonetheless, my feelings of inadequacy, so long fostered by Mom, only increased around Antonio.

His relationship with Valerie, however, was a close and caring one. For her, he was the father she had lost, someone who was affectionate and loving. He paid attention to her, brought her little gifts, carried her around on his shoulders, called her “mi princesita,” my little princess. He made her feel special and she loved the time they spent together.

Antonio was also a buffer between Mom and Val, deflecting Mom’s anger. And because Mom was so very happy with Antonio, she was angry much less often. I thank Antonio that, for a couple of years at least, Valerie’s life was a happy one.

Antonio to the Rescue – Twice
SNAPSHOT: The bicyclist lies sprawled in the wet street, his bent and twisted bike beside him. The street light illuminates the slanting rain and his grimacing face.
The first occurred on a very dark, very rainy evening. I had been running errands for Mom in the car and was stopped on a side street preparing to cross an arterial. Seeing no traffic, I started across the intersection. I never saw the cyclist crossing in front of me. I hit the brakes hard, praying not to hear what I heard: the swoosh of wet tires on slick pavement, the crunch of metal on metal, followed by the cyclist’s scream. I jumped out of the car and ran to help him. He was unhurt, thank God, but understandably pissed. Not knowing what else to do, I loaded his mangled bike into the back of the wagon, told the cyclist, whose name was Andres, to get in and we headed home, two blocks away.

As I pulled into our driveway I was immensely relieved to see Antonio’s car there. “Ven, vamos adentro, I told Andres and he followed me inside.

Mom and Antonio were enjoying some after-dinner drinks and dancing to music on the radio. I walked in, my victim in tow and announced, “Hi, Mom. Hi Antonio. This is Andres. I just hit him with the car and wrecked his bike.”

There’s nothing like dropping a bombshell into an otherwise quiet evening. Mom turned off the radio, sat down and looked expectantly at Antonio, as did I. Antonio picked up his drink and looked Andres over. He saw a young, working-class man in his early twenties, looking increasingly nervous.

“Did you have a light on your bike?” he asked in Spanish.

“No, , pero . . .” Andres begins, but Antonio cut him off.

“Did you have a bell on your bike then?”

“No, ,” Andres said again, clearly beginning to feel a little intimidated.

Antonio’s tone softened. “Are you hurt?“

“No, pero el joven machuco a mi bicicleta.”

“Well, let’s go out and see your crushed bike, then,” Antonio responded and we all walked out to the car in the driveway. I pulled out the bike and Antonio examined it. The front tire and the handlebars were twisted into a near-unrecognizable shape and the frame badly bent.

“Hmmmm, you obviously need a new bike. Do you think six-hundred pesos will take care of it?”

“Si, ,” and his face lit up. “Con eso me compro una bicicleta nueva!”

Taking out a wad of bills from his pocket Antonio peeled off six one-hundred peso notes. “Here’s the money for your new bike, then. And be sure it has a light and a bell. Now, take your bike and yourself away from here. I don’t want to see you again.”

“You won’t, ,” and Andres left with his money.

Neither Mom nor Antonio were angry or upset over what had happened. They realized I wasn’t being reckless or driving dangerously and that I was still an inexperienced driver. I did get a mini-lecture on what I could have and should have done but it was a small price to pay. And even then my relief was more over the fact that the bicyclist was not hurt.

The second occasion where Antonio bailed me out was more serious.

SNAPSHOT: The two men examine their damaged truck, stuck in a culvert in front of our farm house. It’s a clear night and the moon shows me their angry faces as I get out of the car and run to the door.
My other accident happened when we were living on a small farm fifteen miles out of town. I was returning home one night and passed a truck just seconds before I was to turn left into the drive leading to our house. I was doing about fifty and I no sooner had passed the truck when I had to slow down to prepare for the turn. The truck never had a chance to react to my unexpected braking from fifty to fifteen miles an hour. He swerved to avoid rear-ending me and wound up flying across the highway, across a shallow culvert and came to a stop with the side of his truck against a tree. I pulled up alongside our house, jumped out and ran inside. Once again I got a break: Antonio was there. I barely had time to announce what had happened when the truck driver and his passenger were hammering on the door, demanding we open it and come out.

Antonio quickly took control of the situation. “What happened?” he asked curtly.

The driver and his passenger were clearly taken aback, first that they were dealing with a man rather than with me and second, that the man was large, intimidating and obviously of a much higher social class.

The two men automatically doffed their hats and explained how I had caused the accident. When they finished, Antonio pushed by them. “Let’s see the truck, how badly damaged it is.” Mom and Val and I followed him.

After a cursory inspection of the truck Antonio dealt with this incident the same way he had dealt with the bicyclist: money. He pulled a wad of bills out of his pocket, counted off four one-thousand peso notes, (three-hundred twenty dollars American.) “This should more than cover the damage to your truck and your lost income while it’s being repaired. There’ll be a bus into Guadalajara along the highway here shortly. Get on it and send a tow truck out tomorrow. Your truck will be safe here in the meanwhile.”

“Gracias, ,” said the driver as Antonio strode off, not even awaiting the response. The three of us trailed along after him, like ducklings.

Once again, to my surprise and relief, I didn’t get into trouble over this accident, either. Antonio questioned me closely on how I had been driving before the accident. Was I speeding, he wanted to know, doing anything reckless? The truth was, I hadn’t been.

“Well,” he said, “your mistake was typical of inexperienced drivers. If you know you’re going to make a left turn, don’t pass! Be patient! You created a situation that forced him to react without giving him any time to do so.”

Without Antonio’s presence the consequences of either of these accidents could have been calamitous. I didn’t have a driver’s license, Mom didn’t have insurance and she didn’t have the money or the know-how to buy our way out of situations like this. We would have been subject to the Mexican legal system, which operates much as France’s under the Napoleonic code: you’re guilty (and often jailed) until you prove yourself innocent. Hard to do when you’re in jail. I can’t think of any outcome that would have been favorable under those circumstances.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 15, 2010 6:57 pm

    >Never remember hearing stories about Antonio. This is getting interesting and I await the next chapter.Nixon

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