Monday, November 14, 2011

Chapter Thirty Two: I go find the old mansion in California where my youngest son, Santos, is staying

With a little help from Coral, after all, I made it to California and found my way to the old mansion where Santos was holed up trying to make a little money to eat on, since his room and utilities were paid for by his presence.  It was his benefactor's idea that he could keep his property from being vandalized, but his idea of how he could make a little money on the side had not materialized into anything concrete, so what money Santos had taken with him was melting away every day paying for his living expenses.  After all, he did have to eat.  He could not live on air as I did, being a wraith. 
I followed Santos around part of one day.  He did not do much except take a long walk.  He seemed pretty down, naturally.  He was working a little on his novel, and his cousin was coming once a week to take him out to a movie or something.  His cousin had urged him to come down, so he probably felt guilty because Santos' money was running out with nothing to show for it.  He still had his phone turned on and was talking to his son every day or so.  He would go up on Facebook and say a word or two here and there.
Santos had always been a man of fewer words than Jerome or his sister Vivienne.  He and my oldest son Rafe were more alike in that regard.  Maybe they were like my dad who was a man of few words except when he got mad and then he could cuss for three days. I was surprised that Santos had managed to write nearly a full length novel.  I noticed he was still getting it out and working on it, so all was not lost.
Santos was a war veteran having served seven years in the navy.  I hoped he would apply to a war veteran's association for help if he got too poor.  Jobs just were not plentiful.  Less plentiful than I had ever know them to be, except possibly during the great depression.  I was barely born then, so it did not affect me as later periods of hard times did.
I had not been able to do anything during this last period of hard times except offer my kids some money when they ran clear out.  I lived in the old El Grande Hotel government housing complex so they could not move in with me.  Santos had stayed with me a while once and so had Rafe back when he was out of work once, only that was to another government housing project where we lived when Vivienne and Santos were still kids.
Now I did not want them to move in with me at all!  Ha.  No, I did not want Santos or any of the rest of my kids to get so discouraged they gave up on life.  I didn't think Santos would.  He was not the suicidal type.  He was not an alcoholic as far as I knew.  He never drank in high school at all.  He was very clean living because he was into sports.  He could not play basketball if he got into trouble with substance abuse.
Santos learned to drink pretty well in the navy but since he had not got as early a start on alcohol abuse as Rafe and Jerome, he did not seem to be an alcoholic to me.  I would rather have said he was addicted to video games and a cards called 'Magic' which I never understood. He was teaching his son, young Santos, to do the same.
Now of course he could not afford to drink at all.  Maybe that was one good thing about his impecunious state.  He had never smoked.  Since Santos had grown up with me as his mother after I had run out of my inheritance entirely we had lived in about as complete poverty as it is possible to be in. We survived on food stamps and welfare and government housing.  I was not able to get government disability until Santos was a senior.
Relatives bought him his sneakers to play ball.  The only thing he complained about was the style of the shirts he had to wear, bought from the thrift store.  They were not fashionable and up to date and he was sure they would be recognized as second hand, but other than that he said little.
Although on one occasion I remember him getting mad and tipping all our own furniture upside down saying it all belonged in the dump.  He even said, 'Why do you have to be so god damned poor?"  Otherwise he was a good sport and made do with two old TVs that passed for one.  He had to hit one of them to make the sound go on, but Santos knew just how hard to hit it.  The other one provided the picture.
The furniture was terrible.  In California people gave me couches so at one time I had a living room with four couches in it, one by every wall.  But in Phoenix for some reason nobody ever gave me any couches even though the couch was so bad it needed to go to the dump all right.  People were afraid of my neighborhood so they would not visit.  So did not see this terrible old couch.  We had to make do with it for thirteen years.  Mother did give me her platform rocker when she left town once.  She also let me borrow her big colored TV set for a while when she left for a few months.
Unfortunately, a gang of thieves in the neighborhood saw it on through the window and watched my comings and goings.  One night when I went to the grocery store not even a block a way, they broke Santos' bedroom window, stepped in, and wrapped it in one of my good quilts and took it out the front door.
Santos came home before I got back and found the door open and the TV gone, so after he cursed a blue streak, he got out the broken down TVs again so he wouldn't have to go without.  We hardly had enough money to eat on, let alone buy another TV set.  Mother was angry because I let hers get stolen.  I should never have turned it on without shutting the blinds and keeping it on the wall to the street, where it was less apt to be seen by thieves scouting apartments for something to break in and steal.
Vivienne kept getting jobs in high school so she could buy a prom dress and so on, but Santos wanted to play varsity basketball so he could not spare the time for a part time job.  He was afraid he would not make the team if he did not practice all the hours the black coach recommended.  He being white, he was sure he would be cut if he did anything as time consuming as take a part time job.  He never did get one until he took a class that provided one during school hours when he was a senior.
Vivienne bought a prom dress that cost a $100.  I thought that was a little high for a poor girl, but if it made her happy I wasn't going to tell her she could not afford it.  She earned the money for it, after all, working to McDonald's on the corner.
Those were the days.  I recalled how I used to sit out jars with what I called tooth paste water in them.  The next morning there would be cockroaches in every one of the jars.  The pesticide guy must have been a crook because he did not ever kill one cock roach.  He claimed they all went back in the walls to die.  That's why we never saw any dead ones due to his spraying every month.
A big hole had already opened up above the shower from the shower above leaking.  The contractor had stinted on the materials and holes were opening up in the floors of all the bathrooms, despite the fact that the complex was only six years old.  They finally had to rebuild mine, the hole got so big, but they were never able to fix the hole above the shower.  It would always open up again.
The sewer pipes did not slant enough and the sewer was always getting stopped up.  If you did not stay alert sewer water would bubble up out of the toilet and go all over the floors.  I kept a big wrench handy and when I heard the gurgles I would run outside and unscrew the lid off a pipe sticking about two feet out of the ground, and the sewer water that was backing up would run out on the lawn, sometimes leaving feces, toilet paper and so on, rotting there for days.  I hated that, but crooked contractors were a way of life with government housing, since they were very apt to get away with charging the government high prices and then substituting poor material, and getting past inspectors.
I got so I would immediately call the plumber they used myself. He could come out with rotor rooter equipment and push the blockage out, so a mess did not come out on my lawn.
This was our home and I hated feces and toilet paper coming out on the lawn anytime.  Nobody said anything about me calling the plumber, but then we did not have a manager half the time, so there was really nobody but me to call the plumber sometimes.  As long as they paid for it, it was okay.
I became used to all the conditions of poverty and Santos had been raised when I was the poorest I had ever been and the most disabled.  I had spent all my inheritance.  Even a hundred thousand dollars was not going to last forever.  I lived on it twelve years with a couple of jobs after it ran out, both of which resulted in bad bouts of chronic fatigue.
I paid for two operations with my inheritance, including a Caesarian for Santos.  I paid for Vivienne's birth. And I bought a new volkswagon.  I never bought any clothes for me, not even thrift store clothes as the thrift stores were not as good as they later became.  I just wore my clothes until they practically became rags.
Being on the way to complete disability is a hard way to go when you are having kids, but we survived.  Santos and Vivienne's dad never contributed a penny for their upbringing.  I think he sent $50 once or maybe it was $80 for a new bike for Santos, and that was it.  Once in a while we saw him and I would be incensed at the new toys he had bought for himself, but I knew it would not pay to try to get any child support out of him.
He regarded these as my children.  I had told him they were mine when he said he was going to hit me in the stomach and kill Santos when I was pregnant with him.  I said oh, you are going to kill Santos and me both.  He said, oh it won't hurt you.  I said, I think if you hit me in the stomach hard enough to kill Santos it will probably half way kill me, too.  I had not heard of that method of killing an unborn child before, or ever had a man threaten to use this method on me.
I naturally told him that he could just leave and this would be my baby.  I would raise him and he could go hang.  So that is what he did, he left and I raised Santos.
I naturally did not trust him too much to have anything to do with the kids, even though he did see them maybe three times after that.  He acted like he just did not care if he ever saw Santos.  He had formed some sort of attachment to Vivienne I thought, naturally, since she was a beautiful little girl, but I think he only saw Santos maybe once when he was a child.  He never saw him play basketball even though he came to town once when he could have done. He was content just to see Vivienne. 
I thought that was all very sad, but Santos was a cheerful kid on the whole.  He did not let all these harsh cold facts of life bother him all that much.  He turned out to be a tough ghetto kid.  Made varsity in his junior year on an almost completely black basketball team with a black coach.  It was a good team and went to state and  won state championships while Santos was going to school there.  Santos was taller than any of my other kids despite his dad being a much shorter squirt.  After his dad lost weight he looked like a little shrimp compared to Santos.
Santos had dreams of playing college basketball and even going to the NBA but his black coach declined to recommend him.  If he had had a white coach he probably would have done, and he probably would have played basketball better with a white coach, but that was the breaks for a white kid after blacks were allowed to enter sports and became the main stays at a lot of big high schools and colleges across the land in basketball and football especially.
Turn about was fair play.  Santos never carried any grudges.  Yeah, he was a pretty unique kid.  I called him my ghetto son.  He was always talking about the 'ghetto' where he had been raised....

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