Traffic on the I-10 East barrels me in bumper to bumper staleness. It reminds me of kindergarten and the long red rope my classmates and I had to hold when out on a walk. We kept one hand glued to the rope like we would fall into unimaginable depths if we let go. The traffic reminds me of the red rope, beady brake lights in a line with automobiles on either side creeping at a nauseating pace.
Two minutes on the freeway and a damnable sign reveals my pain in numbers and letters: 35 min. to Downtown LA.
Drive the same road at midnight and there in eight.
I arrive downtown and pay $4 to park all day. I don’t complain. I am harassed by a bum walking to work. I yell at him I am on the phone and he yells at me I need to eat and flips me off. OK. Fair enough.
The glass buildings stretch into the sky and I see my reflection in their windows as I walk by. Some asshole is in a robe smoking illegal cigars up there somewhere, drinking if he is an alcoholic, lying if he is a salesman, either way thinking the world owes something to him. Prick.
I pass grocery cart wielding lunatics and the Garment District which looks like Tijuana’s spruced-up twin. Some people see my skin color and speak to me in Spanish but I do not understand them and keep walking. Rosetta Stone comes to mind again. Expensive but if learned maybe a conversation with Grandpa Tony would be possible. The Mexican roots are there, buried somewhere deep like roots are.
And Big Grandma is there.
Her passing was the first death in my life that brought on the hurt; brought on all the times I should have visited but didn’t; brought on the summers spent throwing yarn balls over her backyard trees, Katie chucking them with me and Honeybear trying to stop us, trying to catch us but never successful; brought on the food wars; brought on the creek and inner tubing down the middle; brought on the river and the fish I pulled out of there and took back to the house to the surprise of Uncle Art who swore a fish had not been caught from that river in ages; brought on the railroad tracks in the distance that must be haunted by a crazy witch ghost; brought on the avocado tree and tangerine trees and the all the things that made grandma’s house GRANDMA’S HOUSE.
And it brought on her tortillas.
In this memory she is in the kitchen cooking for family and all the friends that routinely stopped by to thank the family for this and thank the family for that. Her powdered hands are white from handling the flour and kneading the dough. Her powdered hair is white from age. She loads freshly pressed tortillas on our plates, the rest are stacked in a large bowl and covered with a lid for later enjoyment. The Family is there. Aunts and Uncles and Cousins and Grandpas and Grandmas all there in a frenzy of conversation and laughter, English and Spanish and combinations of both fly in all places at once. Everyone uses butter sparingly on the tortillas except for me. Butter is all over my tortilla, I mean all over it and all over my hands and face.
A prayer takes place and the feast begins and the memory fades and I am left wondering why I did not give the bum a buck or two.
Work finally ends and I brave I-10 West and hold hands with all those break lights in this adult kindergarten of a city. Thirty-five minutes later I am standing in Ralph’s buying tortillas and butter. Fifteen minutes later and I am cursing myself for buying reduced-calorie tortillas. One hour later I am typing of Big Grandma and the tortilla recipe she gave me once that I lost and of her house and the something is missing feel I will get when visiting this Saturday to remember her and the day she passed one year ago.
And I will be sorry all over again for all the years of not visiting or calling.
And I will be sorry that I cannot speak spanish and talk to Grandpa Tony.
And I will finally realize that all Rosetta Stone has to offer are empty Spanish words spoken by a computer.