I am excited to be near the completion of “Exit 19,” a reworked and much improved version of “Just Another Pretty Face” – a novel I completed in 2005 that after critiques and ideation from one year in a writer’s workshop seems so, so much better than my first work.
In fall 2011 I began work on a second novel, and will resume work on it later in 2012. It is called “The Tower,” and is centered around Alfredo de la Torre, a 60-something Mexican-American businessman in San Antonio, Texas who is ready to give up on everything. A rags-to-riches-to-rags tale spanning three decades, this novel demonstrates how passion – when combined with stubbornness and failing to change with the times – can literally kill a dream … and perhaps its protagonist.
The first five chapters of this book is complete and I offer it to you now as a “taste” of what’s to come.
Adam R Jacobson
Alfredo de la Torre sat on the hood of his white Honda Civic, his clothes and face coated in dust, staring blankly at the red light on the top of the 1,800-foot radio tower. Although it was mid-March, sultry gusts of wind stirred up the dusty expanse of underdeveloped fields, a flat, lifeless terrain surrounding him on all sides.
Although he was less than an hour away from San Antonio, Alfredo was alone. Or so it seemed.
Ghosts, represented by the haunting sounds of familiar voices, spoke to him, about him, softly and loudly. He heard the words. But there was no one there.
The wind whipped his white collared shirt, as well as his faded, well-worn denim jacket. His dark blue cowboy hat tilted up and down slightly from the wind, and occasional bursts of dust led Alfredo to let out a hearty cough every so often.
Alfedo had been staring at the tower’s lights for one hour and 47 minutes.
That’s when he went into his left jacket pocket, took out the pill bottle full of various medications, and reached for the bottle of Jack Daniels that sat to his left, on the hood of the car.
Highway 57 was barren, aside from Alfredo and his tower, and his sorrows and guilt.
A transistor radio had been playing regional Mexican music from 99.1 La Torre. Now there was only static.
And a blinking red light.
Alfredo’s dream had come to its conclusion.
Folders full of legal documents piled the back seat of the Civic, stuffed into brown boxes coffered from the rear of his favorite liquor store. A few jewel cases housing the CDs of some long-forgotten norteño artists were scattered about the floor. The passenger seat in the front of the Civic was filthy, stained with a mixture of dirt and whiskey. Inside the glove compartment sat a spare pair of glasses in a worn, black case and an unloaded .40 S&W. Alfredo couldn’t remember where the bullets were, and oftentimes couldn’t remember he owned a rimless pistol cartridge.
Piercing through the wind, and muting the mysterious ghostly chatter, was the familiar ring of Alfredo’s cell phone. Alfredo quietly ignored the call, as he had done the dozen or so previous times his phone had rang since he had started to stare at the tower.
Alfredo grabbed the bottle of Jack Daniels and took another big swig of his favorite liquor. As the warm alcohol filled his stomach and the hot winds continued to wrap around his chiseled face, Alfredo glanced up once again at the tower.
That was the last thing he could remember when the Texas State Trooper revived him with smelling salts in the back of his Ford cruiser.
June 24, 1985
The phones could not stop ringing for Jaime Valderrama. Thanks to an article in the San Antonio Express-News and a mention on KEDA Radio’s morning show, Bandera Records enjoyed a banner first day of business.
As the first retailer in San Antonio to specialize in Tejano, conjunto and regional Mexican music, Bandera quickly attracted fans of the local and regional Spanish-language recording acts that had started to increase in popularity among the region’s Hispanic music fans. For the non-Latinos who encountered norteño and ranchero music for the first time, the sounds of a big, bellowing tuba and brass syncopation may have come as a surprise — unaware of the German and polka influences European settlers in the early 1900s gave to Mexican musicians. The polished sounds of international artists such as Julio Iglesias attracted some buyers, but it was the music of la raza that was attracting the bulk of the customers’ attention. Sales were beyond expectations; records were flying off the shelves.
Valderrama was also taken off guard by Billboard magazine, the publication of record for the recording industry. In this week’s issue, unbeknownst to him, appeared the first-ever Regional Mexican Albums chart. Los Tigres del Norte were No. 1; Los Bukis were No. 2. By day’s end, both artists’ current releases were out of stock.
Now, he was on the phone with a Billboard editor, thanking them for the recognition of music enjoyed by generations of Latinos in the Alamo City. It was still 5:30pm in Hollywood, California, and Valderrama was exhausted from a hard 11-hour first day in operation. Closing time was still 90 minutes away, and the store was full of men and women, young and old, browsing a plethora of Spanish-language record albums and cassettes.
Amid all the excitement and hubbub of Bandera’s grand opening stood a handsome man in a blue blazer, starched white-collared button-down shirt, a red-and-white tie with a gold tie clip and a large blue Stetson hat. Alfredo de la Torre had just stopped by to pick up his bowling pal, Jaime, after another ordinary day serving barbeque plate lunches at Knall’s Meat Market. It was work, and the Knall family was happy to assist Alfredo in at least something temporary, having just lost his longtime job as a merchandising agent at Joske’s department store to corporate consolidation.
“Hey Pachuco! What is this, the last store in town selling the real Coca-Cola?”
Alfredo was in fine spirits, playfully ribbing Jaime for the enormous success seen on Bandera Records’ first day of operation. A line of seven customers, male and female and all Latino, had formed behind the store’s one register. On the freshly painted grey walls were framed pictures of local Tejano and conjunto artists and framed posters of regional Mexican acts.
“Chico, you have no idea … I’ve been non-stop since 7am here in the store. Thank god there is a Whataburger on Roosevelt, otherwise I’d be passed out on the floor.”
“And your customers would be walking all over you, which is to be expected anyway.”
“Thank you, kind sir. And who will be your bowling partner this evening?”
“The Dapper Don, El Rey de Ranchero … put down the phone and vamos, coño.”
“C’mon … it’s been a great day, so let’s celebrate by breaking 200 at Astro. You are the Kingpin of Alamo Heights.”
“Do you see how busy I am?”
“And that’s why you have employees … c’mon.”
“I’ll buy the Lone Star.”
Jaime hesitated for a minute, nodded at his store manager, Luis, and it was understood that the keys were his for the remainder of the evening.
“Great day, boss,” said Luis, a slender second-generation Mexican with short, wavy hair dressed in blue jeans and a San Antonio Gunslingers USFL jersey with the number of quarterback Rick Neuheisel.
“Indeed it is,” Jaime said. “But you better frame that silly shirt you’re wearing. That team is history, mi amigo.”
“They’re still my team, boss,” said Luis.
“Fine, go down with the ship.”
Jaime let out a big sigh and turned to Alfredo.
“Convince me Rudy Trevino knows we exist.”
“Rudy Trevino will be begging to get you as the official sponsor of the 1986 Tejano Music Awards first thing in the morning,” said Alfredo. “I don’t know much about this music, but I do know about that awards show from all the chatter around town. Now, can I lasso you out of this place already?”
“Done. But we’re not taking your Cadillac. I’ll drive the Bronco.”
The big, shiny purple ball rolled down the slick alley.
“Hot diggity dog!”
“I told you Pachuco, this was a good idea.”
“What’s my score, Alfie?”
Alfredo ticked the box for the eighth frame. It was Jaime’s third strike in a row.
“Si señor … that puts you at 200.”
“You need to get out of the ‘70s, man.”
“Yes, sir, J.R.”
“May I be as rich as a Ewing and have a ranch as big as Southfork.”
Alfredo slapped Jaime on the shoulder as he stepped up to bowl, grabbing a slightly chipped green ball and practicing his stance. Jaime sat back at the scorer’s table and grabbed his Lone Star, his third bottle of the evening.
“The alley closes at one,” Jaime shouted at Alfredo.
“I need to be absolutely sure my stance is correct, if I am ever going to catch you.”
Jaime flipped his buddy the bird, and Alfredo bowed. He then turned toward the alley, began his bowling stance, and let the ball loose. It promptly rolled swiftly down the right side of the lane, landing in the gutter halfway toward the pins.
Jaime nearly spit out his beer, laughing profusely and hooting wildly at Alfredo’s bowling follies. He was losing to Jaime by 78 points.
“Now that’s entertainment!”
“It is only par for the course, my friend. A fitting end to another day in the life.”
“C’mon, man. No need for dramatics,” Jaime said, getting up from the table to bowl his final frame of the night.
“Don’t get me wrong, my friend. You are a success. You’ve hit onto something very important, and I think the people of San Antonio will make you very much a rich man.”
Jaime turned to look at Alfredo, his friend of 14 years, and beamed.
“Money doesn’t make you rich,” he replied. “The people in your life are what make you rich.”
With that remark, Jaime turned toward the pins, entered his bowling stance, and hit his fourth strike in a row.
“Nice job, señor,” Alfredo replied. “You are now officially kicking my ass.”
Jaime, taking a page from his friend’s playbook, bowed at Alfredo and grabbed his ball from the return.
“Let’s call it a night.”
Jaime again entered his bowling stance and torpedoed the ball smack down the center of the lane.
“HOT DIGGITY DOG!”
“Five-Star Bowler, you are,” said Alfredo.
The two were the last bowlers in the alley, which was nearing its closing time. Down the main corridor toward the entrance, a lone attendant was spraying disinfectant into the soles of several pairs of used bowling shoes. Last call had already been served to a few bearded men in denim jackets and cowboy hats seated at the bar on the other end of the hall. The sounds of the old Tom T. Hall song “I Like Beer” could faintly be heard from the alley’s aging loud-speaker system.
“C’mon … let’s blow this joint.”
The emerald green 1977 Ford Bronco with white trim rolled north on an empty Harry Wurzbach Road, toward Loop 410.
“What the heck are you listening to, Pacucho?”
Jaime reached for the volume knob on the old AM radio and turned it to the right, making the sounds of the Laura Canales song “Despues del Coraje” ring through the tinny speakers of the Bronco.
“We’re listening to money, mi amigo.”
“Seriously … people are listening to this?”
“Alfie … did you not pay attention to anything going on in my store?”
“You sell Mexican records to Mexicans. I get it.”
Jaime shook his head and gave a hearty laugh.
“Oh, I love ya’ Alfie, but sometimes you can be so dense.”
“I am not dense,” Alfredo protested. “I may not understand certain things, owing to my feeble mind, as you very well should know about by this point in our friendship. But I am not dense.”
“Well … fine, Mr. Feebles.”
The Bronco slowly accelerated as the vehicle entered the interstate highway, traveling west toward I-10.
“This was my No. 1 seller by 6pm, a singer named Laura Canales. I’m telling you this music is going to explode in popularity.”
“And we’re listening to an AM radio in an old Bronco. What’s the FM station for this stuff?”
“Aha, my friend … that’s the thing,” said Jaime, glancing at Alfredo as he sped along Loop 410. “There is none.”
“Really … so you are saying that the most popular music you sell, the top of the Hit Parade, is only on a scratchy AM radio station you cannot probably get at Lackland after dark?” Alfredo asked, referring to the large Air Force base west of downtown.
“That’s exactly what I am saying, Alfie.”
“My god …,” Alfredo said as he stroked his chin with his right hand. “This is truly amazing.”
“Yes … yes, you could make a killing if you knew anything about running a radio station, Alfie,” Jaime said.
“That’s it!” Alfredo excitedly replied “My god … you’re a fucking genius, Pachuco. Like a divine gift from god.”
“Alfie … I was being hypothetical.”
“Wow … a radio station,” said Alfredo, clearly enveloped with the notion that an FM radio station playing Mexican music for Mexican people would bring him back to the life he once had. “I could make a fortune with an FM station playing the music you’re selling at your record store.”
“How? You sell cold cuts at a deli and bought clothing for a department store.”
“Don’t give me that can’t do that attitude, Pachuco … ”
The many bottles of Lone Star beer had somewhat clouded Alfredo’s ability to clearly discern folly from fortune. “I mean, I could do it … especially now.”
“Alfie, I know … I know,” Jaime said in a comforting tone. “I know your overdue for a break, Alfie.”
“Pachuco – I gave 22 years of my life to Joske’s. I had a great job, a great house, a beautiful lady and two amazing boys who only wanted to be Roger Staubach. My job is gone, my house is gone because my job is gone and mi mujer and two teenage boys are two time zones away in Van Nuys, California because my job and my house are gone …”
Jaime paused for a second before responding. He needed to make his next words clear to Alfredo, who had strained to fully come to grips with the series of life-changing events that had rapidly wreaked havoc on his life over the span of just seven weeks.
“Now’s your time …”
The two sat quietly as the Bronco exited from I-10 onto Callaghan Road and up Horizon Hill Boulevard, toward Alfredo’s one-bedroom rental unit – a temporary housing remedy he quickly decided on after having to sell his three-bedroom home in Alamo Heights to help fund the alimony and child support payments to Marie, his ex-wife in California.
“Now is your time,” Jaime repeated softly, patting Alfredo’s left knee with his right hand as the Bronco pulled up to the apartment complex entrance. “You may actually have a great idea.”
“See!” Alfredo beamed. “I knew I had struck a chord.”
“Listen,” Jaime said. “I don’t know a thing about running a radio station, and I have to stay friends with all of the guys running the stations playing my records, you know. But man … I may be an old Pacucho, but I am hearing things that will blow your socks off. There’s a 14-year-old girl, her name is Selena Quintanilla … this girl is going to be huge. It’s a new day for this music, and Tejano music is going to give me plenty of Greenbacks, mi amigo.”
Jaime put the car into park in front of Alfredo’s apartment building and turned to his old friend.
“Alfie – I’ve known you since 1957. We’re old farts, but we can still make a difference. You had a great thing going with Joske’s, and now you be even bigger, right here in San Antonio, man.”
As Jaime’s words sat in with Alfredo, his eyes began to well up.
“Oh, shit … here it comes.”
Alfredo started to break down, crying his heart out and letting out a wail.
“It’s OK, man. I’ve been waiting for this, so just let it out.”
“Oh … my … god,” Alfredo said through the sobs. “I … I …”
“I know, man. It’s OK … really, it’s OK. You’ve been through hell … but now you’re back, and you’ll let ‘em know …”
“I can really shake ’em down,” Alfredo replied, finishing the lyric to the Contours’ early 1960s hit “Do You Love Me?”
“That’s my buddy Alfie!”
“So how do I do it?”
“How? I can help you talk to the finance people that helped with my loan. Frost Bank. They’re pretty good.”
“I can get a loan to buy a radio station?”
“Sure! You can get the credit. But you need a small business plan. There are some minority loans out there too.”
“I do not want any special treatment because I am of Spanish origin,” Alfredo said proudly.
“Alfie – take what you get, my friend. Trust me.”
Alfredo was energized by Jaime’s words, although it was nearly 1:30am and the end of a long day. His words resonated strongly, and Jaime felt encouraged by being able to connect with his friend, who had seemed to sweep his myriad troubles under the rug for weeks.
“Listen,” said Jaime. “That car dealer – McCombs – he bought a radio station and that company seems to be doing well. If a guy who sells cars can become a broadcaster, why can’t you?”
“Yes, you are right.”
“I see that guy Gilbert from Power 93 every so often …,” Jaime continued, although Alfredo was lost in his million-dollar idea.
“I am beginning to like this idea,” Alfredo said to himself over Jaime’s chatter about a local radio executive. “La Torre Broadcasting.”
He motioned with his left hand as if a large invisible nameplate for his future company had magically appeared before him. Alfredo’s declaration caught Jaime in mid-sentence. He looked at Alfredo and his outstretched arm.
“I like it,” said Jaime. “A little self-serving, but no one knows you from a bump on a log anyway.”
“Ahhh … that is now, Pachuco. I am really liking this idea.”
Jaime glanced at his watch and noticed it was 1:43am.
“Alfie, I have to be back at the store in seven hours, and …”
“… and what?”
“Holy shit, do you know what we did?”
“Um … where’s your Cadillac.”
The two old friends started laughing uncontrollably.
“Oh my god – we totally forgot about my car!!” said Alfredo. His cherry red Cadillac was still in the parking lot of Bandera Records, halfway across town.
“Can you believe it? We’re a bunch of old geezers, man.”
“We’re a bunch of beer-drinkin’ bowling hobos is what we are,” Alfredo said to Jaime, still amazed that neither of them had remembered about the Cadillac. Perhaps the four Lone Star beers each of them enjoyed at the bowling alley played a role in their forgetfulness.
“Tell you what,” said Jaime. “Put on a suit, I’ll pick you up at 7:30 and you can go to the bank straight from the record shop. The Cadillac will help you more than a bus.”
“Deal,” Alfredo said, opening the door of the Bronco and letting the cool night breeze into the vehicle.
“Just do me one favor,” he said to Jaime.
“Never, ever, turn down an offer to go bowling with me ever again. If this idea works, I’m buying the beer and I’ll even splurge for the shoes.”
“Ahh … the generous type,” Jaime said. “Go get your ass some sleep.”
Alfredo walked toward his apartment door beaming, excited about the possibilities that owning and operating a radio station could bring.
If I can learn about women’s fashions, I can learn about Mexican music.
It was exactly 7:31 on Jaime’s Casio wristwatch. Inside Alfredo’s one-bedroom apartment, the dusty blue and black digital clock radio purchased from Joske’s in 1972 displayed the time of 7:42.
No matter. Alfredo was out cold.
“Damn it, Alfie … it’s Pachuco! Time to go!”
Alfredo was snoozing away on an old army cot, profusely sweating under a pair of flimsy white sheets and a thin, brown comforter that had previously been stored in the garage of his old home. The alarm on the clock radio had sounded off at 7:10; KTSA’s morning newscast droned on at a volume that would have awakened many a sound sleeper.
BAM. BAM. BAM.
“Coño, it’s Pachuco! Open up!”
The pounding on the door reverberated loudly enough throughout the small apartment’s walls that Alfredo woke up. He glanced and the clock, which now read 7:47.
“Oh, shit,” he muttered.
BAM. BAM. BAM.
Alfredo shuffled to the door, clad in a pair of striped blue pajamas. He unhooked the top chain on the door and unlocked the main bolt, then twisted the lock on the doorknob before letting Jaime in.
Jaime was dressed in blue Dockers, a starched buttoned-down white shirt and brown Tony Lamas. He donned his favorite Arrowhead Buffalo Nickel Bolo and tan Stetson Vaquero Comfort hat.
“Jesus Fucking Christ … Alfie?!”
“I know … I know. I’ll be ready in a minute.”
Alfredo did an about face and marched toward the bathroom.
“You have 15 minutes.”
Jaime had not yet visited Alfredo at his new residence, and had only dropped him in front of the building when offering a lift home. It had been five weeks since Alfredo said goodbye to his three-bedroom home of 23 years; to Marie, his wife of 24 years; and to his two teenage boys, Freddie and Juan Alfredo. The apartment appeared as if he had only moved in the night before.
Unpacked moving boxes littered the living room, which was barren of any furniture. A bottle of Jack Daniels and a filthy, spotted glass sat on the kitchen counter. A kitchen table had a open box of Special K cereal sitting in the middle; the dish drain had a pile of dirty silverware coated with specs of brown gravy.
“What a place,” Jaime muttered in an undertone. A second later, Alfredo emerged from the bedroom, wearing a towel.
“You have six minutes. We can grab coffee and a donut on the way. Dress nicely and brush your fucking teeth.”
“There is no need to speak to me like I am one of your sons,” Alfredo replied, enunciating every single word as if independent from one another.
“Well, then act like a papa you lousy fuck and let’s get you a loan.”
Alfredo bellowed from inside his bedroom, “FINE! But we’re stopping for donuts first.”
He emerged from the bedroom wearing one of his finest suits from his days at Joske’s department store. Bold, pinstriped and silver, the suit matched his wing-tipped shoes and sky-blue bolo perfectly.
“You look like the Mexican Bob Barker,” Jaime noted playfully. “C’mon down! You’re the next contestant on The Price Is Right!”
“I bid 87 cents on a Devil’s Food glazed and a small coffee with cream and sugar,” Alfredo said.
“Always the sporting gent,” Jaime said. “Let’s go.”
The two gave each other a strong, reassuring handshake, affirming their bond of friendship and support, and exited the apartment.
“Let’s take the Cadillac,” Alfredo offered.
Jaime stopped, turned and gave Alfredo a serious look.
“Um … Alfie,” he said with an air of concern. “Don’t you remember?”
“Alfie, no jodas … Your car? Last night?”
The two stared at each other blankly. Was Alfredo so inebriated that he forgot something about his treasured 1976 Eldorado convertible?
Alfredo cracked a smile.
“I got you!”
Jaime sighed, smiled, and promptly punched Alfredo in the left arm, just hard enough to make it hurt.
“I can’t believe you’re fucking around and we’re 15 minutes late. Jezus!”
“Lighten up … it’s a beautiful day. I am almost positive the car is untouched, in the parking lot of Bandera Records, and adding a ray of sunshine to your grey box of a building.”
The two walked toward the old Bronco and hopped in, Alfredo on the passenger’s side and Jaime taking the wheel. He started up the engine and gave it a rev, turning on the radio. The crackle of AM static was faint, with the sounds of a song from regional Mexican act Los Bukis booming through the speakers.
“What in god’s name is that?” Alfredo asked.
Jaime put the Bronco in drive and sped down the hill toward Callaghan Road.
“That, my friend, is the sound of money. And it is the sound of your future. Get used to it.”
Alfredo and Jaime pulled in to the parking lot of Bandera Records at 8:46am. The coffee and sugar-coated breakfast treats from Shipley Do-Nuts were firmly secured in Alfredo’s left hand, his right hand tapping his knee. The radio was tuned to the country music station, AM 680, and he particularly liked Alabama’s “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band).”
Jaime turned off the ignition to the Bronco just as the song was ending.
“Now that is good music, Pachuco.”
“You’re so Texan it’s not even funny,” Jaime said, slamming the driver’s side door of the Bronco as he grabbed the keys to the front doors of the record store.
Alfredo reached into his left pocket for the keys to his Cadillac, which stood untouched in the barren, lifeless parking lot, a shimmering burst of color in a sullen sea of concrete. He opened the trunk of the car, inspecting to ensure that nothing had been stolen from the night before. Of course, had anything been stolen there would have been visible damage to the Cadillac. Yet this was typical of Alfredo, who always took extra care in making sure that everything was exactly how it should be.
After peeking into practically every corner of the Cadillac, Alfredo sauntered into the record store, following Jaime.
“My day guy should be here in 20 minutes,” Jaime said. “Then we can take a spin to the bank and get you that l-o-a-n.”
“Sounds good,” Alfredo replied. “But …”
“But what?” Jaime said. “You workin’ at Knall’s today?”
“Not until three,” Alfredo shouted to Jaime, who had stepped into a small closet in the far right corner of the record shop.
“Perfect,” Jaime yelled. “You can treat me to a late lunch!”
As Jaime worked in the back closet for several minutes, Alfredo wandered around the store, stopping every few feet to thumb through the dozens of LPs that sat in the aisles. Los Bukis. Mazz. La Mafia. The names of the bands were barely familiar to Alfredo. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to name any of their songs if asked by a loan officer at the bank, much less recognize any of their songs if they were ever played.
Perhaps I am jumping into this a bit too fast, this radio idea.
Alfredo walked back to the counter in the front of the store, where the register sat. He glanced at the counter and saw a pen laying there. He grabbed it, and fumbled through the drawer under the register, where he successfully found a scratch pad.
“Los Boo-Keys,” he said aloud, scribbling the names of several bands down. “Mazz … or it is pronounced Motts?”
To his luck, a folder sat on the left-hand side of the counter that bore the label “Top Seller Log.” He grabbed it and started jotting down the names of other Tejano and regional Mexican acts.
“Now I just need to familiarize myself with this,” Alfredo said to himself, as Jaime approached from the rear of the store.
Just then, Billy Benitez, a portly young man with long, stringy black hair, bad acne and a slight body odor entered the store.
“Que pasito, man?” Billy said, giving Jaime a hand slap.
Alfredo offered a look of disgust. Billy was wearing a Judas Priest T-shirt, torn jeans, a filthy pair of Adidas sneakers and had a couple of tattoos Alfredo couldn’t distinguish on his left forearm and the right side of his neck.”
“Great first day yesterday,” Jaime said to Billy. “Let’s do it again, brutha.”
“Right on, right on!” said Billy, as he ventured behind the counter to where Alfredo stood.
“Good morning to you,” Alfredo said.
“Are you the taxman or somethin’?”
“No … no,” Alfredo said, keeping a straight face and a stern look on his face. “Just an old friend of Jaime’s.”
“Eh … OK, you must be cool then.”
“That is very good to know.”
Jaime motioned to Alfredo.
“Do you have to always be so stiff?”
“C’mon, Alfie. It’s time to make you the Alamo City’s newest success story”
“From your mouth to God’s ears,” Alfredo replied.
“How can I get in on this?” Billy interjected.
Alfredo instantly thought of the perfect reply.
Take a bath and dress like an adult.
“You’ll get your shot at fame and fortune, Billy,” Jaime said. “Just keep the sales hot.”
“Will do, Jaime. You have a good one.”
Jaime and Alfredo walked out of the store and toward the Cadillac.
“You let that man run your store for you?”
Jaime shook his head and smirked.
“That guy does DJ parties at local schools and dancehalls and makes a fortune,” Jaime said. “He’s getting into the Quinceañera business. Maybe a Bar Mitzvah or two as well.”
“I’d like to see that walk into a synagogue,” Alfredo said in a tone of disgust.
“Alfie, you can never judge a book by its cover … How else do you explain why I am friends with someone like you?”
Alfredo smirked and responded, “because you have impeccable taste and knew the best way to get the best deal on men’s suits.”
“Ain’t that the truth.”
The two hopped into the Cadillac and Alfredo revved up the engine.
“At least I still have my Caddy.”
“Alfie, by the end of next year you’ll be able to buy an entire dealership. Now let’s go.”
Alfredo and Jaime had been close friends since bonding one evening in the late summer of 1957, two 22-year-olds who happened to end up on a double date at a local drive-in theatre. Years later, they still recall the film – 3:10 To Yuma — and the drive to Roosevelt & White, on the south side of town. But they could no longer recall the women, nor could they recall how the women were convinced to go on a double date.
Yet they remembered the oppressive Texas heat, the dim sound of the feature film coming through a speaker fastened to an open window on the driver’s side of the De Soto. They recalled the women becoming disinterested in the film, and eventually their dates, who mainly cared for musicals. Alfredo and Jaime also vividly remembered a box of spilt popcorn and butter stains all over the blouse of Jaime’s date. After dropping off the girls at one of their homes, Alfredo and Jaime had agreed to meet up a few days later to go bowling. The women were never seen or heard from again.
The Cadillac entered the parking lot to Frost Bank and swung into a spot.
“You ready?” Jaime said, slapping Alfredo on the shoulder.
“Let’s do it,” Alfredo replied, holding the scratch pad and a black case that held his reading glasses.
The two got out of the Cadillac and strode into the bank with the bravado of a gunslinger in the Old West.
The bank was practically void of customers. A lone teller was explaining rather loudly to an old woman with a walker why she could not pay her Southwestern Bell bill at a bank and needed to visit the telephone company. The only other person was a pale man with sandy-colored hair who appeared to be a bank manager, given his tan suit and yellow tie. The man sat at a desk in an office to the left of the teller booths, with the door wide open. Framed portraits of The Alamo and a scene of the Guadalupe River were in plain view.
Jaime knocked on the man’s door, with Alfredo standing to his left.
“Yes? May I help you?”
“Good morning,” said Jaime. “We’re looking for Al Beckman.”
“Oh,” the man said, glancing at each of the men rather inquisitively. “I’m sorry. Al no longer works at this branch.”
“Oh,” Jaime said.
The man stared at Jaime and Alfredo without saying anything more.
“Well then … can you help us?” Jaime asked.
“I’m not sure. What is it that you wish to discuss?” The man motioned with his arm to come forward to his desk.
Jaime and Alfredo each took the two cushioned chairs that sat in the front of the oblong, wooden desk. A nameplate read Chadwick R. Wagner. A framed photo of Mr. Wagner with a woman in a red and white dress, sporting shoulder-length, wavy silver hair and a large pair of red glasses, sat to the left of the nameplate, facing sideways. Given the beach scene in the background, it could have very well been a honeymoon portrait. A couple of congratulatory greeting cards were stationed on a credenza opposite the desk.
“Al was the person here at Frost Bank that assisted in approving my business loan,” Jaime said, settling into the chair.
“Oh, a loan … Hmm … what is your name?”
“Valderrama … hmm,” Mr. Wagner said, rocking back and forth in his large leather swivel chair. “What sort of business loan do you have?”
“I have a small business loan, for my business … well, obviously for my business,” said Jaime, shuffling slightly in his seat and acting a bit nervous.
“What is your business?”
“I just opened Bandera Records … we had a banner first day!”
The pep in Jamie’s voice did little to trigger any emotions in the rather dour Mr. Wagner.
“Records … As in a record shop? Hmm …”
“Fantastic first day!” Jaime beamed, attempting in vain to elicit any sort of positive response from the man.
Mr. Wagner glanced down at a stack of papers and forms before continuing the conversation.
“I’m sorry, I have many things to take care of today,” he said to Jaime. He had yet to address Alfredo. “Why is it that you are here?”
“Well …” Jaime replied, turning his head toward Alfredo. He gave Jaime a nod of approval to continue. Jaime adjusted his seating position before moving forward with the conversation.
“I am here today to help my good friend here, Alfredo de la Torre.”
“Oh,” the man said. “So this isn’t about you or anything you need answered?”
“No … um, no. I came here with my friend because of the great service I received from Mr. Beckman, and wanted to bring your bank another great customer.”
Mr. Wagner glanced at Alfredo, and then continued to speak to Jaime.
“So, I think I understand,” he said. “You are here to translate for your friend?”
Jaime looked back at Alfredo, as Alfredo’s face turned bright red. Just as Jaime was about to reply politely, Alfredo’s temper flared as he erupted with great vigor, “He is not here to translate for me, sir.”
“Oh! You speak English!”
The banker’s response further angered Alfredo.
“YES I SPEAK ENGLISH!” Alfredo bellowed.
“Calm down, Alfie,” Jaime said softly. “This is just a misunderstanding.”
Jaime turned to Alfredo, who was ready to jump out of his chair in disgust. “He was confused, that’s all. Let’s just calm down, OK?”
Alfredo took a heavy sigh, tilted his head up and down, and over the next minute slowly regained his composure.
Mr. Wagner clasped his hands, looking at Alfredo.
“I’m sorry,” Alfredo said, apologizing to Jaime but not to Mr. Wagner.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated, this time turning to the man. “I was born in Texas and have lived in Texas my entire life.”
“I understand …” The man replied.
“Do you, sir … Mr. Wagner, I presume?”
“Yes,” Mr. Wagner replied.
“Well, thank you,” Alfredo replied. Jaime glanced toward Alfredo, a bit concerned that his temper may again get the best of him.
Mr. Wagner nodded his head affirmatively.
“Mr. Wagner, I was a very successful businessman, and spent nearly half of my life at Joske’s department store, working as a retail merchandising agent,” Alfredo said, clearly annunciating the last three words so as to emphasize their importance to Mr. Wagner.
“I see,” he replied.
“I worked hard, and enjoyed it very much. As you know may know, layoffs came … and my position was eliminated,” Alfredo said.
“I am sorry to hear about that,” Mr. Wagner said.
“I have been through hell,” said Alfredo. “But … I am doing well. I have a tremendous idea for a new business … a business that will make millions of dollars. And … I would like the respect of being treated like any other customer.”
“Mr. De La Torre, I do apologize,” Mr. Wagner said, for the first time in a tone that showed some sense of emotion. “Now, you believe that this business idea you have … it will generate profits in the millions of dollars?” Jaime sat in silence, focusing his attention on Mr. Wagner.
“Yes,” he said. “Mr. Wagner, I have thought long and hard about what I wish to do.”
Jaime glanced for a split second at his friend, who was lying to the bank manager. Alfredo had always been an honest straight-shooter. Jaime played along, and remained tight-lipped about his friend’s future, which had been hashed out over a few beers 24 hours earlier.
“Mr. Torre … I’m sorry, Mr. De La Torre, I’ll have to ask you some general questions about your business plan before we can proceed, if that is alright,” Mr. Wagner said.
“Yes, that is alright. Let us proceed.”
Alfredo glanced again at Jaime, who said nothing. When Jaime met with Al Beckman about his business loan, the process was quite easy and involved a bit of paperwork; a quiz was not part of the determination process.
“Well, Mr. Torre, I need to ask you what you are currently doing,” Mr. Wagner asked. “You noted that you were let go from Joske’s, and I am sorry to hear that. The layoffs affected a lot of very good customers of this bank. Are you working now?”
Alfredo cleared his throat, and replied, softly, “Right now I have a temporary job. I work at Knall’s Meat Market.”
“Oh, Knall’s!” Mr. Wagner exclaimed, showing the first positive emotion since Alfredo and Jaime entered his office. “What a great place – an institution, really.”
“They’ve been very kind since I lost my job at Joske’s.”
“Knall’s … Truly San Antonio,” Mr. Wagner said. “So tell me, how are Ike and Herbert?”
“Well … I don’t really know the family well, I …”
“Oh,” Mr. Wagner said, the excitement in his voice swiftly fading. “So you don’t know the Knall’s well?”
Alfredo indeed knew of the family, and for many years. A bit of nerves, and embarrassment regarding his deli-counter job, suddenly emerged, making it uncomfortable for him to even explain his current predicament.
“Well, I … um … What I mean is, you know, their dad, Joe, was a guy I met years ago. Karen and Janice, the grandkids, they were friendly with my sons.”
“Well, OK,” Mr. Wagner said, pen in his hand. He again briefly turned his attention to a stack of business forms on his desk. “I see.”
“The girls used to play with my sons a lot, when they were quite young,” Alfredo said.
Mr. Wagner glanced up and looked at Alfredo.
“How old are your sons now? What school do they go to?”
Alfredo paused, quickly thinking of a proper response to a most difficult question to answer. “Well … I am afraid I do not know.”
Mr. Wagner put down the pen and looked inquisitively at Alfredo. Jaime was now on edge, and turned toward Alfredo. He knew Alfredo didn’t wish to discuss the sudden disintegration of his family and home. But, he obliged.
Alfredo continued, “I … My sons, Freddie and Juan Alfredo, they are teenagers. They moved to California … six weeks ago … with my Marie, my …”
Alfredo sighed, rubbing his tearing right eye with his hand. “My ex-wife, Marie.”
It pained Alfredo to admit to a man he had just met, a loan officer, no less, that his personal life was in shambles. He had trouble coming to terms with it, but with his future at stake, he poured out his emotions.
Jaime sat there, motionless. It was unclear what was going through Jaime’s mind, but it was likely that he did not approve of what could have easily been viewed as Alfredo’s pity play for a financial boost at a time of great need.
“Mr. Wagner, I am sorry …”
“I am sorry to hear of your troubles, Mr. De La Torre.”
“My wife has asked for a divorce. She is now in California with my sons … in Van Nuys.”
“Thank you for letting me know,” Mr. Wagner said.
“Will this affect my chances of getting a loan from Frost Bank?”
Mr. Wagner stared at Alfredo, unsure of how to respond. Jaime glanced at the bank officer, and then at his friend, and again at Mr. Wagner.
“Mr. Wagner?” Alfredo asked.
“Mr. De La Torre, I am very sorry to hear of your struggles. It is certainly not easy to suddenly have to deal with a divorce, right after your job is taken from you. But I do need to ask, do you own your home, or are you renting at this time?”
Alfredo cleared his throat, took a breath, and answered another difficult question.
“I am presently renting … an apartment,” he said.
“OK,” Mr. Wagner said.
“A small apartment, nothing special.”
“Thank you,” Mr. Wagner said, turning his attention again to the large stack of papers on his desk.
“I had a house … a nice big house. In Alamo Heights.”
“Mr. De La Torre, is the house now sold?”
Alfredo again paused before answering the question.
“Sir? Who is the owner of your former home?”
Alfredo didn’t want to answer the question. Even Jaime, his closest friend, was unaware of the specifics.
“I don’t know,” he replied.
“You don’t know who purchased your house?”
“I don’t know who purchased the house from my wife,” Alfredo blurted out.
Jaime immediately turned to his right, staring wildly at Alfredo. Alfredo had not told his best friend the truth regarding the sale of his home. He assumed Jaime would conclude it was simply out of financial desperation, following the layoff from Joske’s.
“I’m sorry, Mr. De La Torre. Did you say your wife, meaning your ex-wife, sold your house?”
Jaime couldn’t contain his composure.
“Alfie, my god … She got the house and sold it.”
Alfredo looked at the both of them in shame, and lowered his head toward his knees. He began to sob.
“Marie … Marie, my ex-wife. She … I had to pay alimony. And child support. And she knew about what was happening at Joske’s. I’m sorry, Pachuco. We had been having problems long before I lost my job.”
“But Alfie … your house. You didn’t sell because you lost your job?”
“No … I lost my house because I lost my family … and then my job.”
Mr. Wagner looked on silently, observing Alfredo and Jaime.
“Jaime … you must understand. On the very day — the very day — I lost my job, she had made up her mind. I couldn’t tell you … I couldn’t tell anybody.”
“How does it feel? How does it feel to come home after losing your job, a job you loved, and to be told by your wife that it does not matter. That it was something we all saw coming. That I could have done something but didn’t and now it had come to this. That my boys and Marie were leaving.”
“Mr. Wagner, I am sorry to have taken your time with this,” Alfredo said, getting up from the chair.
“Mr. De La Torre, may I offer some words?” Mr. Wagner said to Alfredo, who was ready to walk out of the office and toward the bank’s exit.
“First, I am sorry to have assumed that you did not speak English. This is something I’ve encountered regularly here at this branch. Second, I am truly sorry to hear of your troubles. I really wish you well, and hope your million dollar idea will bring you back here again soon.”
Alfredo looked at Jaime, and then at Mr. Wagner.
“Mr. Wagner, at first I thought I was a victim of racism, you having thought I did not know English. I must say I was very upset at the situation. It is 1985 — I know little girls that don’t know a word of Spanish and are third-generation Mexican-American. This is the world we live in.”
“Mr. De La Torre I must admit that I need to understand the Hispanic people here better. I am from Lenexa, Kansas, and San Antonio is a bit different from what I am used to. But, I must say, that your story today shows that you, like many other people I see here, are good people, people trying hard to move ahead.”
Alfredo shook his head affirmatively.
“Now, I think I have learned something today,” he continued. ” I have perhaps come here unprepared, not ready to take on this next chapter in my life.”
Mr. Wagner got up from his desk, walked to Alfredo and offered a handshake. A bit surprised, Alfredo obliged, giving the banker a firm shake.
“I really thank you for coming in here today,” he said as Alfredo nodded his head.
“Mr. Valderrama?” Mr. Wagner asked as he turned toward Jaime, still seated and looking up at the two of them.
“Yes,” he said, standing up and shaking the bank manager’s hand.
“Thank you for bringing in your friend.”
Jaime smiled, and turned to Alfredo.
“Mr. De La Torre, are you really prepared to discuss a business loan with Mr. Wagner? You’ve not discussed your million dollar idea.”
Alfredo looked at Jaime, and then at Mr. Wagner.
“I think I need to write a formal business plan … put it all on paper, if you will. I think … I would like to make an appointment, and we can meet again in a couple of weeks when I can present to you my million dollar idea.”
Mr. Wagner nodded, and Jaime shook his head affirmatively.
“Mr. De La Torre, I am here weekdays from nine until 4pm. Please call the day before you would like to come in, and I would be pleased to meet with you then.”
“That is much appreciated, Mr. Wagner.”
“Now, I must add …”
Alfredo’s smile quickly turned to a look of concern.
“We will need to closely examine your plan, and review all of your finances. There is a very good chance we will not be able to provide you the services you need, and I want to make it clear to you now.”
Alfredo nodded, understanding the situation.
“Mr. Wagner, I will do my best to present to you a plan that will make my business proposal an offer this bank must assist me in bringing to fruition.”
The bank manager smiled.
“Well then, Mr. De La Torre, I look forward to meeting with you soon. Good day.”
“Thank you, Mr. Wagner. I truly appreciate the opportunity.”
After a second handshake, Mr. Wagner turned to Jaime and shook his hand.
“I appreciate you coming today. Thank you.”
Jaime nodded and thanked Mr. Wagner, who walked back to behind his desk. Jaime followed Alfredo out of the office and through the bank’s exit, toward the Cadillac. Alfredo started the car, cranking on the air conditioning. The temperature had soared and the hot sun was now beating down hard on the asphalt, making it seem even hotter than it actually was.
“Let me explain.”
The two sat in silence for a few seconds, looking at each other.
“Alfie … You are my best friend. My pal. I don’t ever want you to think you cannot confide in me for any reason. Any reason.”
“Alfie, you have been through hell. And you’re my friend, man … I did not have to learn that Marie got the house from you in the divorce settlement here, at the bank.”
“I couldn’t …”
“I know, Alfie … It’s hard. I know.”
Tears were again welling up in Alfredo’s eyes.
“Today was … this … you know.”
“Yeah … Alfie, I know …”
“Pachuco …,” Alfredo regained his composure after trying to talk through the tears and a sob. “Jaime, you are my best friend and I appreciate that like you don’t know. Without you … I’d be a drunk on a bus somewhere on the southside, aimlessly wandering streets I haven’t seen in years.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“But you brought me here today. And it taught me something. I learned something … that I can have great ideas … tremendous ideas. But I have to plan it out first. Piece it all together.”
“I get it.”
“This really is a great idea, this radio station idea. But Pachuco … did you really think I was going to get a loan from a bank to own a radio station today?”
“You do have a point.”
“Did you not have to present a formal business plan, written down?”
“I had some notes … But they put it all together for me, so I guess … I’m sorry, Alfie. I let you down and didn’t think this through.”
“I don’t feel bad … really, I don’t,” Alfredo said. “In fact … I feel confident.”
“That, my friend, is news to my ears!”
The two smiled, chuckled, and gave each other a firm handshake.
Alfredo put the car in reverse and backed out of the parking spot, then put the Cadillac into drive and headed out onto the road. Alfredo turned on the radio and punched up a couple of FM stations before landing on 96.1 FM. Would I Lie To You? by Eurythmics was playing.
As he drove southward, the bright, sun-lit city skyline emerged from behind some trees in the distance, shimmering glass towers under a hot summer sun.
“You’ve got to love this city,” Jaime said.
“Indeed I do, Pachuco. Indeed I do.”
“You know, Alfie … I was thinking.”
“I know … rare, huh?”
“Do you remember the double date at the drive-in on the south side of town?”
“Oh!” Alfredo let out a hearty laugh. “How could I forget! You and that popcorn butter all over your date.”
“Yeah, that was a great move on your part.”
“My part?! You were the one that dumped it all over her blouse!”
“C’mon, you old coot! You spilled it all over her when you went to grab a big handful and knocked it all over her!”
“I am not old and I have a terrific memory!”
“Really?! So, Ol’ Don Alfredo, what was her name?”
For a minute, the only voice one could hear was that of singer Annie Lennox.
“You can’t remember. Oh, poor Alfie.”
“Well … can you?”
“Yeah, it was … um …”
“Oh, you ol’ bastard!” Alfredo said with a laugh, lightly punching him on the thigh.
“You know, I cannot remember either of their names for the life of me.”
“But you remember the film, right?” Alfredo asked.
Jaime scratched his head.
“3:10 To Yuma … a classic.”
“Wow … Glenn Ford and … what’s his name?”
“Van Heflin,” Jaime replied.
“That’s right! What a film … do you remember that great scene?”
“Oh yeah,” Jaime said. “I mean, I don’t go around just shootin’ people down … I work quiet, like you.”
Alfredo retorted. “All right, so you’re quiet like me. Well then shut up like me.”
Jaime and Alfredo continued to drive toward downtown, laughing and shooting the breeze.
“Thank you again, Pachuco.”
“I feel great. I really do.”
“Well, then you better get yourself a desk, clean that apartment of yours and start writing a business plan.”
“Maybe I can work quiet, like you,” Alfredo said.
“But you’ll never shut up like me.”
“Great words come from great minds,” Alfredo countered.
“Great … can we stop at Eckerd because I need earplugs.”
“Sure,” Alfredo said. “That way you won’t be able to hear my lunch invitation for Mi Tierra.”
“You’re inviting me to lunch? You don’t have a pot to piss in and you are taking me to lunch?”
“No … I’m driving you to lunch. I said nothing about paying.”
“Ugh, Alfie. Get me those earplugs now.”
“I feel great, Pachuco. I feel great.”
“Great … earplugs?”
Alfredo took a couple of the larger knives used for cutting brisket and Tri-Tip and started to sharpen them, skillfully running each of the blades over a steel bar before striking each of them against a two-foot-long sharpening stone set in oil, in the rear corner of the deli counter at Knall’s Meat Market.
He was a pro at knife sharpening now, having mastered the preparatory tasks needed to skillfully wind his way through an energetic yet oftentimes crazed shift at the popular butcher and delicatessen. Even at 10am a handful of customers had formed a line in front of “Knall’s Stall,” the deli counter in the rear corner of the market.
Hail Mary. Hail Mary. Hail Mary. Now let the customers come in.
Alfredo had his particular rituals. When it came to business, it was all about the customer — interacting with them, and making them feel like your best, long-time friend. Then, make the sale. Alfredo understood this from his time at Joske’s, where he’d instructed his team to take a similar approach to sales after rising through the ranks and into store management in the late 1970s.
He grabbed his English Apron, specially imported for Knall’s, from his designated hook on the far left corner of the deli and a mesh baseball cap bearing the store logo. The apron masked his favorite pair of Faded Glory blue jeans and a cuffed button-down white shirt with a starched collar, with a red and blue-striped tie visible from the knot up. Alfredo looked down and retied the loosened laces on his black workers’ shoes. He hated them, although he realized now that wearing a pair of boots while standing for five hours at a deli counter was not the best of ideas.
“Alfredo! Thank you for being on time,” Peter Knall, Herbert’s son and the deli manager, sarcastically yelled from across the deli. It was 10:10am, and Peter had already started helping an early rush of customers.
“I am sorry. I was busy preparing some very important things. I did not realize how late I was.”
Alfredo had indeed not realized that he was late. He had awoken at 4am, immediately struck with an idea for how he could pursue his newfound passion to own — or at least manage — an FM radio station that played music he didn’t even listen to: Spanish-language music from native Texans. For five hours over a cold barely nibbled-on piece of burnt toast and bitter Sanka and Sweet ‘n’ Low, Alfredo jotted down idea after free-flowing idea on a white notepad pilfered from a back office at Knall’s.
“You know I’m bullshitting with you, right?” Peter whispered in Alfredo’s left ear.
Alfredo smiled as Peter gently took a newspaper and gently smacked Alfredo’s right shoulder.
“Have to be tough with Dad and the others here, you know.”
“I will be sure to be here on time, sir.”
“Very good,” Peter shouted from the counter as he presented a short, elderly woman with curly silver hair and large bifocal glasses a stapled brown bag full of Tri-Tip. “That’ll be ten dollars, miss.” He winked at her and she smiled, fidgeting in her purse for the cash.
“Alfredo, you good to go?”
“I am getting used to this baseball cap.”
“Hair nets are for faggots.”
“Must you talk like that with customers here, son?”
“Hey, it’s all cool, man. Just don’t tell Pop.”
Peter Knall was your atypical fortysomething. Divorced for five years, Peter was regularly seen at Astro Bowl knocking down strikes with a new group of women every week or two. He was also a Metalhead, and had recently boasted about a recent trek to Corpus Christi to see a band named Dokken. Yet Peter was well-schooled, and had a degree from Baylor University. Before the 1979 gas crisis, and his divorced, he had a great job in Houston at a petrochemical company. For Alfredo, this put Peter on a different level than the rather unkempt man managing Bandera Records for Jaime.
Peter took off his apron and hung it on a hook.
“She’s all yours, sir. And remember, if you don’t sell it, you smell it.”
“Thank you, my Captain.”
“See you at Astro, Rear Admiral.”
The deli counter was now in Alfredo’s hands.
A week had passed since Alfredo and Jaime gallantly strode into Frost Bank, full of bravado and self-confidence but nevertheless naïve and rather unprepared in their effort to land Alfredo a business loan.
At Knall’s, he was simply Alfredo the Deli Man. Yet he used every opportunity to engage customers in conversations about music — what they listened to, what they enjoyed. A man named Jerry ordered the same submarine sandwich every day: ham and cheese with mayo and lettuce. Jerry loved jazz music and always talked about how wonderful it was to see Stan Getz perform live in the early 1960s. For many others, the brief chatter in between preparing sandwiches involved many popular names — Willie Nelson, The Oak Ridge Boys, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Julio Iglesias. On occasion, one or two customers would mention a Tejano act; Alfredo scribbled the names of these bands and secretly added a description of the customer on the back of each order slip, which he’d stuff into his apron after the customer left.
Alfredo’s spirits were reinvigorated, and he had not taken to the bottle since he had gone bowling with Jaime the night before the Frost Bank debacle. He had even made an effort to clean up the mess in his ratty one-bedroom apartment. Empty bottles of Lone Star beer now sat in a milk crate, ready to be taken down to the trash room. The kitchen table was now devoid of cereal boxes, used cartons of orange juice and flyers from the Sunday Express-News. Old Joske’s shirt boxes and shopping bags that had littered the hallway were now in big white trash bags.
The newly positive attitude and genial attitude toward customers had captured the Knall brothers’ attention. They were well aware of his woes, and knew his life was in shambles. Thus, the last few days brought smiles and pats on the back from Herbert himself.
“OK, Number thirty-two! Who has number thirty-two, if you please??”
Alfredo shouted over the cacophony of customers that surrounded the deli counter. It was now 12:15pm and the sandwich line had snaked well back into the meat market.
“Right here, sir,” said a woman with short, wavy brown hair and cherry red-framed glasses. Alfredo caught a glance, but he was more concerned about who stood at the end of the line. Alfredo yelled to a man in a silver pinstriped suit and an oversized brown cowboy hat who glanced at his watch every few seconds and looked rather impatient. “Sir, I promise I will be with you very soon, and it will be the best sandwich you have ever had today,” Alfredo remarked. Several people in line giggled.
“OK miss, what can I prepare for you today?”
“Hi, I’d like a ham and cheese with lettuce and tomato on a Bonillo roll.”
“Ham and cheese …” Alfredo repeated, jotting down the woman’s order.
“And two chicken salad sandwiches, with tomato — no lettuce — also on a roll.”
“Two chicken salads … anything else?”
Alfredo turned his head up and looked directly at the woman for the first time. His jaw nearly dropped, and he froze in his tracks. It was Lisa Salazar, the store manager at Joske’s North Star Mall location — a former colleague who he’d known for 15 years. It had been roughly one year since Alfredo had last seen Lisa, at a picnic for the store’s family and friends.
Lisa did not recognize Alfredo.
“I’ll have three orders of banana pudding,” she said.
Alfredo stared blankly at her, and then down at his hands, and then at his apron.
“Oh my …”
“Yes … yes. I am sorry. You said bread pudding?”
Lisa looked inquisitively at Alfredo for a second. His work apron after two hours behind the deli counter had several red blotches and specs on it. The green and white baseball cap tilted slightly to the left of Alfredo’s head, masking his thinning silver hair normally hidden by a cowboy hat.
“Do I know you?” Lisa asked.
“Yes, I believe you do know me.”
Lisa and Alfredo looked at each other again for a moment. The man in the pinstripe suit was no longer the last person in line, and a large woman with a big black purse now stood three people behind the man.
“I’m … I’m sorry. It has gotten quite busy. I must get your order ready.”
Alfredo turned his back toward Lisa, told himself in Spanish to regain his composure, and started to prepare her order, hoping she hadn’t made the connection between him and Joske’s. After preparing the sandwiches and placing them in a brown bag on the deli counter, Alfredo’s hopes had been dashed. Lisa’s memory had been sufficiently tapped.
“Alamo and Commerce.”
Alfredo stopped his bread pudding preparation and looked up. A tear started to form in his right eye.
He sighed, and struggled to give a smile.
“My god! Alfredo! It’s Lisa, from North Star!”
“Yes, I know it’s you.”
“So why didn’t you say something?! My god! Who knew you’d be here!”
Alfredo shook his head as he finished Lisa’s order.
There was a brief moment of awkward silence. A once-senior manager at Joske’s anchor store was now serving a longtime underling her lunch from behind a deli counter.
“Not exactly the same thing as handling merchandise for a five-floor department store, you know,” Alfredo said, with a wry tone in his voice. His patient was wearing thin, his pride tarnished with the stains of sliced meat and slight embarrassment. He was fallen, with a wounded spirit, Alfredo thought.
Must move on. Must move on.
“Well, I … um … It’s good to see you working.” said Lisa, reaching into her pocketbook for some cash.
“I mean, it’s certainly not easy, I’m sure, and even for us,” Lisa said in a tone that suggested compassion but was interpreted by Alfredo as one of pity. “I’m running the No. 2 store in the chain, people are quitting and the remaining staff is nervous, very nervous. There is a Saks Fifth Avenue coming, and this new multi-level parking garage puts our store under the microscope.”
The chit-chat about Joske’s current predicament was the last thing Alfredo wished to discuss, especially as 15 people now stood in line waiting for their lunch.
“I’m sure you will do fine,” said Alfredo, glancing at the deli ticker. “Thirty-Eight! Who has number thirty-eight??”
“Alfredo …” said Lisa. He’d moved on to the next customer.
“Excuse me, sir, are you number thirty-eight?”
A man wearing blue jeans and a plaid long-sleeve shirt nodded and began to give his order. Alfredo started jotting down the order before addressing Lisa.
“Thank you for coming. Here is your ticket.” He handed her an order form with a bill for $7.37.
“Please pay up front. We hope to see you again soon, and enjoy the best sandwiches you will eat today.”
“Alfredo … ”
Alfredo turned his attention to the other customers as Lisa looked on silently. After a few seconds she turned around and walked toward the front, briefly glancing back at Alfredo, who continued to focus on the customers, now numbering two-dozen in line.
Finally, the man in a silver, pinstriped suit and outsized cowboy hat reached the front of the line.
“Yes,” said the man.
“Excellent, sir, and what is it that I can prepare for you today?”
Alfredo had hit a rhythm, and the line was flowing swiftly and smoothly despite its massive length.
“Well, I’d like a couple of pounds of Tri-Tip, a pound of bread pudding, and, um, let’s make it five turkey and cheese sandwiches on Bonillo rolls,” the man said in a deep, rich voice, one that recalled an television announcer from an old 1950s variety show.
“Quite a hearty meal, sir,” Alfredo joked.
The man started laughing. “Oh, I could probably eat your bread pudding all by myself, but that’s my limit. This is for my team.”
Alfredo perked up. “Team? You don’t work for the Spurs, do you? I quite enjoy watching them.”
The man laughed again. “Oh, no … not quite. I am a general sales manager for a radio station. I have a team of sales executives and we’re having our monthly team meeting in an hour. I work at Power 93.”
Alfredo could not believe the random occurrences of the last 30 minutes. First, he encounters Lisa, and must face his past. Now, of all people, a sales executive at a radio station was ordering food from him.
“Well, I am very privileged to be providing you the best lunch your team will have today,” he said as he turned to slice the Tri-Tip.
“You’re quite a witty fellow,” the man noted.
“I put passion into everything that I do,” Alfredo said. “This … this is something I learned and embraced, and I enjoy talking to interesting people like you.”
“That’s something special,” said the radio executive. “Some of the kids on my sales team don’t quite get that.”
“That is too bad. I believe that in any job one must have passion,” Alfredo continued. “If there is no passion, the work is just something to do and a means to a paycheck. But if you truly wish to succeed, one must care as deeply about the job as they do about the things they spend their paycheck on.”
“You are truly one interesting fellow,” the man said.
“It is from years at Joske’s,” Alfredo said, wrapping up the banana pudding and now tending to the sandwiches. “I was in charge of ordering all of the merchandise downtown … So, I am sorry to admit that I am not a professional delicatessenist … or whatever they may be called. But I pledge to give you my best.”
“You worked at Joske’s?” the man noted. “I give you props, man. A lot of good people are in worse situations than you.”
“You do not know my situation, but … you said you worked at Power 93?”
“Yeah, it’s KITY. We play Top 40 music … you know, the stuff a 14-year-old girl would like. Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen.”
Alfredo was mindful of the line of customers but had to bring his radio ideas into the conversation, and now was the only time to do so.
“Do you know a man named Gilbert?”
The man laughed. “Gilbert Reyes? Yes … you’re making his sandwich!”
Alfredo smiled broadly and laughed. “I will promise I will make his extra special.”
“So wait,” the man said. “How do you know Gilbert?”
Alfredo filled a large paper shopping bag with the food heading to Power 93, and quickly wrote up the bill.
“My best friend Jaime — Jaime Valderrama — says he knows a Gilbert from your radio station.”
The man was dumbstruck.
“Jaime? From Bandera Records? He is your best friend?”
Alfredo nodded. “Oh, yes. We go way back.”
“What is your name?”
“Alfredo de la Torre.”
The man reached into his suit pocked and handed him a business card.
“I’m Bruce Diamond. Jaime is really on to something with that store.”
With the man’s name in hand, Alfredo leaped at the chance to share his million-dollar idea.
“I do agree, and I believe I have an even bigger idea, and it is one that involves radio.”
“Really?” Bruce said. “Well, tell ya’ what. Why don’t you give me a ring after the Fourth of July holiday and I’d love to hear about it.”
“I will absolutely do so,” Alfredo said, tipping his hat. “Now, Mr. Diamond, I am afraid I must give all of these people behind you the best lunches they will eat today.”
Bruce tipped his hat and grabbed the bag full of food.
“Mr. De La Torre, you make sure of it.”
Alfredo was beaming. What dumb luck. What an incredible turn of events.
He hit the button for the ticker reader and advanced the number.
“OK, number forty-six! Thank you for your patience, miss. What can I prepare for you?”
“Alfie! Enough flirting! Let’s get those sandwiches moving!!”
Jaime had made a surprise visit toward the end of Alfredo’s five-hour shift. Alfredo stunk of deli meat and barbeque. Alfredo gave him a somewhat perturbed look, and then returned to wrapping up some sliced meats and handing them to a pretty young mother with a baby in a stroller.
“Thank you, and we hope to see you again soon,” Alfredo said. The woman smiled, and Jaime tipped his hat toward her as she and her infant son exited.
“Well, it is good to know that even the highly regarded business owners of this fair city come to Knall’s to enjoy the best sandwiches they will ever eat …”
” … today, at least.”
“Exactly,” said Alfredo, grabbing a Bonillo roll and slicing it.
“What sort of sandwich would you care for, my friend?”
“I’ll take home a brisket sandwich on a Bonillo roll. Can you do that?”
“Not only can I do that, but I can charge you $4.50 for it, too,” Alfredo said, grabbing a couple of slices of brisket and placing them in the roll.
Jaime shook his head back and forth as Alfredo returned to the deli counter to make the sandwich.
“The Biggest Butcher in the Biggest State …” Jaime said, playing off the longtime slogan of Joske’s department store.
“The demands of a delicatessen job are greatly underappreciated by the happy masses that enjoy our quality product,” Alfredo said to Jaime, handing him the sandwich in a wrapper. “That will be $4.50, plus a special tax for you, so the total is six dollars and twenty-one cents. You may pay at the front, sir.”
“A special tax?”
“Yes, I am afraid there is a special tax for individuals who are very special customers. It is our way of saying thanks.”
“Alfie, you are one peculiar son of a bitch, but it is great to see you in good spirits.”
“Pachuco, I have had the most wonderful encounter … not even thirty minutes after a most difficult encounter.”
Alfredo wrapped up Jaime’s sandwich and placed it on top of the counter for him.
“Today I froze for the first time,” he said.
“Froze? You mean, like deer-in-headlights froze? What did you do?”
“I did not do anything, Pachuco. I got nervous … Yes, me. Nervous.”
“I don’t understand,” Jaime said. “Hey, can I get a bag for this, you cheap bastard?”
“Another nickel, please,” Alfredo said amusingly, handing Jaime a white plastic bag emblazoned with the big black and orange Knall’s store logo. “So anyway … I was going along just fine, in a real rhythm, making sandwiches. I was in a truly great mood, Pachuco. And then … Lisa Salazar steps up to the counter.”
“Who’s that, an old flame?” Jaime asked. “Someone you want to treat like a tourist and take down to Riverwalk for a nice meal?”
“Jaime, this is not a joking matter,” Alfredo said, turning more serious in his tone. ” Lisa … Pachuco, Lisa is the store manager at Joske’s at the fancy mall, up north.”
“Oh,” Jaime said, now comprehending Alfredo’s awkward encounter. “Oh, boy.”
“I started to cry, Pachuco,” he said in a hushed tone, although the deli was devoid of customers. “But I didn’t. I did not cry. And that is what is most important to say.”
“That you didn’t cry?”
“Yes!! I could have easily broken down and cried,” Alfredo said quietly, leaning over the deli counter toward Jaime. “You have seen how I have been over these last days, and months. Look at me, Pachuco. I am a mess.
“I admit it. I have screwed up my life but I see a new, golden path, and you have helped me so, so much.”
Jaime reached over to Alfredo and clutched his right shoulder. “I hope this golden path has branches that lead to my house.”
“They will, Pachuco, they will,” Alfredo assured him.
“So, whaddya say? I’m starving. You done here yet?”
“I believe you are my final recipient of a great, freshly prepared lunch,” Alfredo said, taking off his apron and tossing it into a big white hamper tucked away in a far corner of the deli. “But I must tell you about the absolutely wonderful encounter I had right after I saw Lisa.”
“Fine,” Jaime said, “But can we do it as we’re walking out to the parking lot? I would like to eat this lunch while it’s still fresh.”
Alfredo signaled to one of the Knall’s, who was meeting with a beef distributor, that he was leaving and got the OK sign in return.
Jaime followed Alfredo out the front door as they walked across the parking lot to their respective cars.
“Pachuco, I must say this: When I saw Lisa I was embarrassed. Humiliated. I am wrapping sandwiches in white wax paper. I once purchased merchandise for Lisa Salazar. There is no glamour in what I am doing. There is no big paycheck in what I am doing. There is no country club with children splashing around in a pool and … I did not flinch. I did not react negatively when I saw Lisa and wished that she did not notice me.
“But seeing Lisa triggered something, Pachuco. For months I would not talk about Joske’s. I do not want to talk about Joske’s. And now … Joske’s is in my past. I am moving forward, and this is thanks to you.”
Alfredo stopped in front of Jaime’s Bronco, parked alongside his Cadillac. “I must thank you, Jaime Valderrama,” he said, extending his right hand out for a handshake.
“You silly old coot,” Jaime howled and embraced his oldest friend.
“I am moving forward!”
“Good,” Jaime said, reaching for his keys. “So no more babble about your ‘silly job’ cutting meat and making people’s lunches?”
“It is done.”
“Good, because I am starving! I’ll talk to you later.”
“But I need to tell you about my second encounter.”
“Coño, chico. I. Am. Hungry,” Jaime said. “My stomach is growling, so I’m giving you five seconds … what is it?”
“I met the general sales manager for your friend’s radio station today, this Power 93.“
“You’re kidding!” Jaime said, clearly amazed at this stroke of luck for Alfredo.
“I remembered you mentioning your friend Gilbert, and it just so happens this is Gilbert’s boss,” Alfredo said excitedly. It was the peppiest he’d been for weeks. “I was preparing the lunch for the entire sales force for this radio station, Pachuco. Can you believe it?”
“This is truly amazing,” Jaime said. “Did I not tell you that this job would yield surprise opportunities? Knall’s Stall is an institution in this town. All of the important people make stops there, I told you!”
Alfredo continued, “We are going to chat about my big idea, Jaime. I am going home, putting my thoughts on paper, and will give him a call after the Independence Day holiday. I am tempted to call him right away … but I will think this through and prepare. This could be a tremendous opportunity to move forward with this Tejano radio idea.”
Jaime’s stomach loudly growled.
“I envy you, Alfie. You have the free spirit of Jack Nicholson, or Dennis Hopper.”
“But I will not smoke that dangerous drug of marijuana. This is all clearly conceived now, Pachuco. Not even an ounce of liquor has flowed through my body since we went bowling five nights ago.”
Pachuco embraced Alfredo and gave him a pat on the back.
“You are my brother. You are my friend. And I am very proud of you, Alfie.”
“Pachuco, I am proud to have you as a friend.”
“Good … NOW LET ME GO EAT!”
Alfredo laughed as Pachuco revved up his Bronco and blazed toward the street.
“Hey Alfie!” Jaime yelled out of the window.
“Objects in the rear-view mirror always appear closer than they are, but also remember that only you can control how close they get. You’re the driver — make sure the things you wish to leave behind stay behind.”
Alfredo tipped his hat and smiled as Jaime peeled out of the parking lot and sped down the street.
Sage wisdom from Don Pachuco.
Alfredo started up the Cadillac and turned on the radio, switching the station from 96.1 to Power 93. A weather jingle followed a commercial for Handy Andy Supermarkets.
“Alamo City weather is sizzling for your holiday. Ninety-eight on Wednesday, 104 on the Fourth and a scorching 102 on Friday. It’s 92 degrees in San Marcos, 91 at the airport and on your radio, it’s Phil Collins on your number one for music, money and fun!”
Alfredo looked in the rear-view mirror, and saw no cars blocking his way. He then looked into the empty backseats of the Cadillac, and stopped before putting the car in reverse.
As “Sussudio” played loudly on the car radio, Alfredo reached into the glove compartment, grabbed an old envelope full of faded Polaroids, and quickly flipped through the pics. Something suddenly triggered a memory, a random blip of happiness and an image that flashed brightly through his mind.
After skipping twenty or so shots, he’d found the picture. His two sons, as rather young infants, were shown splashing around, laughing in an inflatable kiddie pool. He’d taken the photo in the backyard of his old home.
Alfredo took the photo and placed it on the dashboard, to the left of the speedometer.
This is not in my rear-view mirror. This is in front of me. And I will not stop until I reach my destination.
He took his two forefingers, kissed them, and placed them on the photo. He then turned a knob on the radio to AM and dialed up KEDA, which was playing “Las Nubes” by local artist Little Joe.
Alfredo backed out of the parking spot and drove his beloved Cadillac back to the one-bedroom apartment that he now called home.
Alfredo jumped out of bed at the sound of the clock radio, the alarm going off at 7:40am exactly to Power 93. The volume was left at a considerably high level from the night before, and was now blaring Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” directly into Alfredo’s left ear.
“My god this is awful,” he protested aloud, turning off the radio and slowly rising from the bed. “Four hours of sleep … I guess that is enough.”
Alfredo ventured into the kitchen and grabbed a can of Maxwell House coffee from a cupboard. It was empty.
“ñooo …I don’t believe it.”
He tossed the can into the trashcan hiding under the sink and opened the refrigerator to find a carton of milk that expired on July 2. The smell test worked; the taste test did as well. He grabbed a bowl from another cupboard and a box of Corn Flakes from the cereal closet. Alfredo had gotten quite organized in recent days, and the apartment was quite clean and orderly, aside from a pile of notebooks and two empty juice glasses on the dining table.
He had been up until 3am, working diligently on a written plan of action to present to Bruce Diamond. Alfredo took a spoonful of Corn Flakes and ate some as he walked over to the table to glance at his notes.
La Torre Broadcasting.
Tejano FM for San Antonio.
January 26 Billboard magazine – Hispanic music explosion.
Visit Jesse Castellanos at 1006 W. Elsmere Place.
A menagerie of penciled reminders, ideas, leads coated pages and pages in two notebooks.
“I really did a lot last night,” Alfredo said, astonished at his own level of research and ideation.
“Maybe I should put it all together and call them today.”
The very thought tugged at Arturo. The early bird catches the worm, and the fish, too, he always told himself. But he then thought of the Frost Bank incident, and of Mr. Wagner. He hadn’t even called him back yet, to present him a sound offer.
Call Mr. Wagner at Frost Bank on 7/8.
“Anything else I should scribble down?” Alfredo said aloud. “My memory is just not like it was, and I am not even an old man.”
Suddenly, the phone rang shrilly. It startled Alfredo, who forgot that he had even obtained phone service for his apartment. No one ever seemed to call him; he’d never make a call at 8am, unless it was an emergency.
Alfredo reached around the tan and blue pin-striped sofa and grabbed the rotary-dial green princess phone from the end stand.
“Hello? This is Alfredo.”
“This is Alfredo … who is speaking, please?”
The sound of Juan Alfredo’s voice startled him.
“Oh … Oh my,” Alfredo said, suddenly feeling faint and queasy.
“Dad … It’s Juan Alfredo.”
“I know … I know, I … Oh, I miss you so, so much, and I love you so, so much,” Alfredo said.
“I miss you too, Dad,” Juan Alfredo said over a cacophony of noise in the background.
“Where are you? Is it not six o’clock in the morning in California?”
Silence again greeted Alfredo.
“Juan Alfredo? Can you hear me?”
“Yeah, Dad … It’s just … It’s not six o’clock where I am.”
Alfredo’s heart raced.
“What do you mean? How did you ever get this number? Where are you, son?”
“I called information, Dad. I found your number right away. I really wanted to talk to you.”
Alfredo tried in vain to hold back the tears.
“Oh, Juan Arturo … I miss you so, so much. I wish I could see you.”
Alfredo started to sob uncontrollably.
“Dad … Dad, are you there?”
Alfredo regained his composure.
“Yes … yes, son, I am here. Now where is it that you are calling from?”
“St. Mary’s and Pecan.”
Alfredo didn’t understand what his son was saying.
“I’m sorry, where are you? You are not home and it is very early in the morning, Juan Alfredo. Where is it that you are phoning from?”
Alfredo took a seat on the sofa.
“Juan Alfredo? Answer me, please. Where are you calling from?”
“I’m at St. Mary’s and Pecan, Dad. I’m downtown … I’m at the Greyhound Station. Please pick me up.”
(C) 2011-2012 Adam R Jacobson. All rights reserved. May not be used in any way without the expressed written consent of the author.