Half a block from my apartment building's front door.
Yesterday, as I walked past Wings and More, a skanky Korean-owned bar at 9th and Washington, Jimmy ran out to get me. Jimmy is a cook at Anastasi Seafood, right across the street.
Since I had expressed an interest in meeting some of his Mexican co-workers, Jimmy dragged me inside. The first guy I talked to had so little English, however, we didn't get very far, but then I met Humberto.
When Humberto asked me what I do, I said I'm basically a teacher and a writer, then I actually ran nearly two blocks home to get my two books that are available in Spanish, Otra vez la noche: Cuentos contemporáneos de Vietnam, published in Madrid in 2006, and Todo alrededor de lo que se vacía, published in Mexico City in 2012.
Here's the title poem, as translated by Luis Alberto Arellano:
TODO ALREDEDOR DE LO QUE SE VACÍA
Vivo aquí porque no tengo mucho dinero y eso es cierto, también, para todos mis vecinos. En esencia, soy uno de los vagos y perdedores de la vida, esos que huyen de las responsabilidades donde sea que aparezca. Después de cada comida, lamo mi cuchara de plástico en un gesto de solidaridad con un objeto inanimado. ¿Sabías que una vez me cogieron con mi propia cuchara? Esta misma cuchara. Y, más tarde, con la mitad de una navaja de rasurar. Desde la costura de mi escroto hasta el borde de mi ano hay 15/16 de pulgada. Se llama perineo, que en griego significa, creo, todo alrededor de lo que se vacía.
Since I had extra copies of Otra vez la noche, I gave Humberto the book. "This means a lot to me, my friend," He said. He was red-eyed and drunk.
Leaving behind a wife and two children in Mexico City, Humberto came to Philly in 1998. By 2000 or so, his wife had found another man, but Humberto's mother didn't tell him about it until 2002, "When she said, 'I must tell you something. I have something to tell you,' I knew something was wrong. Then she told me. She said, 'Do not drink." She knew I would drink to not feel the pain."
In 2003, Humberto got back to Mexico to try to salvage the situation, but his wife wouldn't even let him see their children.
"My wife, she was an angel. She still is. She was my everything. I came to the USA to make money to build us a house. Now I can't even see my children."
Humberto has found himself a new woman, though. "You're lucky, I said. Many people have nobody."
"I know, my friend. I can go out, get any woman, but it's not the same. I can talk about it now. Before, I could not talk about it. In Mexico, when you get married, you make a vow to the Virgen De Guadalupe, and my wife did that. You're supposed to be together many years."
Humberto is a beefy dude, with moustache, whisker and slicked back hair. On his arms are tattoos of the Virgin of Guadalupe, "Hecho en Mexico," tragedy and comedy masks, a stylized puma and something I couldn't quite see. On his neck is "El Rey." He wore an orange mustle-T showing Japanese cartoon characters. His nickname is "Cornish Hen," however.
"Why do you let them call you that?"
"I didn't, but you know how it is. The more you complain, the more they call you that."
Another guy in Wings and More was called Chinito, "Little Chinese." He is small and has East Asian features.
"That guy is a good boxer," one of the guys said to me.
"Him?! You must be joking."
"He drinks more beer. He good boxer!"
I brought up Chino Maidana, whom Humberto very much admires. Humberto then recounted the knockout punch delivered by Sergio Martinez against Paul Williams. He even showed me how it was done.
"Sergio said, 'You have to show your opponent some meat.'"
"Yes, bait. You have to bait him."
"Then you counterpunch..."
"Yes, like this. Bam!"
It is one of the best knockouts ever.
I brought up the Chavez / Meldrick Taylor fight, the one that went 15 rounds and was stopped by referee Richard Steele with only two seconds left. Slick, quick and nail tough, Taylor is a Philly guy. He never recovered from that loss.
Humberto, "People think Taylor was winning, but Chavez worked the body. He hurt him. Chavez was winning."
When Vicente Fernández' "Por tu maldito armor" came on, Humberto sang along with tremendous feeling, "Por tu maldito amor / No puedo terminar con tantas penas... "
Not counting me, the only patrons there were six Mexican men.
"Humberto, there are never any women in this bar."
"I know. They cannot come in because they get attacked."
He didn't mean that literally, of course. He just meant these lonely drunk guys would pay her way too much attention.
Fights do break out here regularly. Cops have been called.
In 17 years, Humberto could only return home once, "I said to my mother, 'Don't die before I can see you again.'"
Thirty-six-years-old, Humberto makes money by riding a bike to deliver pizzas. His mother is 60-years-old.