Continued from Chapter 23.
“Boys, let me say again, that there is one main truth about the way the Universe works, and that is: You Get What You Focus On, and in that way, You Create Your Own Reality. If you focus on getting beat up or shot, that will be what you bring about in your life. If you carry that negative fear into this meeting, you could reinforce the negative fears of some of those guys.” Don Emilio
A meeting had finally been arranged for Tony and me to go before the guys and talk about our situation. It was just getting dark when I went to Amador’s Market to get Tony so we could walk over there together. But when I got to the store he had bad news for me.
“You go on over, I’ll be there soon. This shouldn’t take but about half an hour more.”
A big order of food arrived late, and he had to help get it priced and up on the shelves. As I walked the four blocks to the meeting, I thought to myself that if I didn’t know better, I would have thought Tony had made up an excuse to stay away from this showdown with the guys. I know he didn’t have any control over the truck showing up late. And I know that when these orders arrive, he always has to help with printing the price tags, sticking them on, and stocking the shelves. I just wish I could have been the one to find an excuse to avoid facing the guys.
The meetings usually take place in a building on Logan Avenue that has vacant shop spaces on the ground floor and apartments on two floors above. My father said that a small grocery store used to be there, but I only remember it being vacant with boarded up windows. It belongs to one of the guys’ family, so we get to use it as an occasional place to hang out, our clubhouse. There are a lot of these vacant storefronts, former businesses that died when the freeway and the bridge came through the neighborhood, tearing out the heart of the business district.
As I walked down the last block on Logan, I had a very uneasy feeling. The whole street looked strange for some reason. There were parked cars, but there was no traffic on the street, and no one walking by on the sidewalks. It was just past sunset, and I guess because the high fog had rolled in, the streetlights seemed to give a weird color to the sky.
My heart was pounding as I approached the old building. It showed its age, with peeling paint and sagging window frames. This building had seen better days. I’d seen better days too, and I knew that this was not going to be one of them. Slowly I opened the door and looked in. It was dimly lit inside. I saw that there were about 15 guys already in the room, sitting in chairs or standing in groups, talking. About a third of the guys were about Tony’s and my age, or just a little older, the guys we hang out with. The rest were older members. A few heads turned toward me as they heard the old door creak. I turned back to look down the street, hoping perhaps to see Tony walking this way. It was already too dark to see very far down the street. Anyway, I knew it was way too soon for him to have finished yet. There was nothing left for me to do but suck it up, walk in, and get on with it.
From the time I walked into the room, it seemed like I was in a fog. People started yelling at me, talking about Tony and me abandoning our homeboys, and turning on them.
“But we haven’t turned on anyone,” I insisted. “We’re still your friends. We just don’t have much extra time any more to hang out and….”
“Shut the hell up. We’ll do the talking here,” said one of the older guys.
“Yeah, we’re not here to listen to your lame excuses. It’s too late for excuses.”
“You vowed to hang with us forever, you pinche bastard, and now we can’t find you….”
“You never show up when you’re supposed to.”
“You think you’re better than us….”
I tried to speak up and defend myself, tell them we weren’t abandoning them, but nobody wanted to hear anything. This was their time to let it all out, to justify their actions that I knew would follow. Before, I couldn’t imagine how friends could beat up on friends, the punishment for leaving the gang. Now I could hear it in their voices. They had created an imaginary hurt, and built up an anger that each spoke, an anger that grew as each listened to the others. As they continued to speak, the volume got louder and louder, and they got angrier and angrier.
Oh damn, where’s Tony, I thought to myself. If I have to take this beating all by myself, I’m in real trouble. There is so much anger here, they’ll beat the holy crap out of me. Not that I wished hurt on Tony, but if we shared the blows, and if we could give some back together, rather than all of them pounding on just one of us, me … we could get through it.
Manuel, mister scarface himself, finally got up out of the large upholstered chair he liked to sit in. He had been listening to what everyone else was yelling, but he remained calm, and never spoke himself. As he stood there, he stuck out his left arm, like he was parting the waters, and the noise receded. Everyone deferred to him, and the room fell silent.
“Where is your partner, Vincent? I understand the two of you wanted to talk to us today.”
“Tony should be here soon. They got a load of food in at the store just as he was about to leave. He had to unpack, price, and shelve the food. He should be done any minute now.”
“So go ahead. Tell us what you wanted to say. Or do you need Tony to back you up?”
“No, I … uh, can start … I guess.”
Tony and I had already told Arturo, Pablito, Tomás and a few others what we were proposing, that we could start teaching them the basics of karate, and then some of the energy movement stuff that Don Emilio had taught us.
“Well,” I began, “we want to share some of the stuff that my Tío Emilio has taught us, but we want to begin by teaching the basics of karate, which he said is a good way to start moving energy….”
A low rumble in the crowd slowly erupted into shouts, for and against. A few voices were pulling for us, but it was clear those against us were yelling louder.
“What’s this karate crap?”
“They quit. They gotta pay.”
“Let ‘em work for us. Let ‘em teach us karate.”
“Kick their ass if they wanna leave.”
“We don’t need no damn karate classes.”
“Let’s get it on! I wanna pop the mother upside his head!”
“Yeah! Let’s do it!”
It was getting louder and louder. These guys were getting out of hand. I thought most of them were on the verge of getting very violent. It was getting so loud that I could hardly think. I knew I was done for.
“Shut the hell up!” yelled Manuel. “Shut the hell up! I’ll handle this! And someone turn on that fan! It’s getting goddamn hot in here.”
Manuel reached behind his back, pushing his loose-hanging Pendleton shirt out of the way. My knees suddenly got very weak.
Oh my God, I’m dead, I thought to myself, I think he’s got a gun.
“All right!” someone yelled, laughing. “Do it to him!”
Just then all the lights flickered, then went out.
“Hey! What the hell!”
“Who turned off the damn lights?”
“The fuse blew!”
“Hey man, I can’t see a thing!”
Everyone was yelling again. I couldn’t see a thing either, but it didn’t sound like anyone was moving. This was the break I needed. I knew now was my chance to get out of there, but I also knew that if I ran out the front door, the light from the street would light me up and make me an easy target.
While they yelled at each other in the dark, I slowly and quietly started to make my way toward the back storeroom and the back door. I walked in the darkness with hands out in front of me, hoping I wouldn’t bump into anything or anyone. When I got to the side wall I turned toward the back and walked quickly. I knew it was a clear shot out the first door, into the storeroom, and then out the back door. As I expected, once through the first door, the dim alley light shining through the window lit the storeroom just enough for me to see as I ran through that room and out the second door. I could hear them yelling.
“He’s getting out the back!”
“Turn on the damn lights!”
“Someone go flip the switches in the damn fuse box!”
“Run after him, dammit!”
When I reached the alley I started to run toward Chicano Park. Just then a figure jumped out of the darkness and started running ahead of me, scaring me so much I almost pissed in my pants. But I quickly realized it was Don Emilio.
“Jesus, where did you come from?” I yelled to him.
“From the Great Spirit,” he yelled back as we ran. “I was told you were in great danger again. I stood by the back door and heard what was going on. When the lights went out I had a feeling you would run out this way.”
I looked back and could see that four guys were running down the alley after us. When we got to the corner, I saw three more running parallel to us half a block over on Logan Avenue, heading us off from going that way.
An elderly man was standing there on the alley corner, watching what was going on. He held a Mexican cowboy hat like Tata’s, which he was whipping on his leg, as if cheering for us in the race. I noticed that he looked very much like Tata. As I ran by, he shouted, “Vicente, don’t worry about those guys. And try to come and visit!” But I could have sworn I did not see his lips move while I heard those words. How did he know my name, and why would he want me to visit? And how could I not worry about those guys? They’re right on our tail! This was really weird. But I didn’t have time to think about it, because after running across the street, Don Emilio continued down the alley.
“Don Emilio, no….” I slowed down a little. I didn’t want to follow him in this direction, but I didn’t want to leave him alone either. “This alley turns back onto Logan!” I yelled as I ran a little behind him. “Those guys are gonna cut us off and jump us there!” The freeway off-ramp at the edge of Chicano park cuts off this alley with a tall concrete wall.
Don Emilio slowed up so that I was again running next to him. He grabbed my hand.
“Think about where you would rather be,” he yelled. “Wish it with all your might!”
God, I’d rather be home, in bed, I thought to myself, safe and warm under my covers, with my father in the front room to protect me from these crazy vatos. Sometimes I can’t stand being around my father, but right now I’d give anything to be with him.
As I was thinking this, Don Emilio yanked on my hand as we ran alongside the concrete wall. He turned as he yanked, and we both went crashing into the wall….
I remember everything disintegrating, in slow motion, breaking up into smaller and smaller bits, including me, until there was just blackness and space, with white lights scattered throughout the blackness…. And I knew that I was connected to all of those white lights, and to the darkness between them. It was me, and it was everything else, and I was connected to it all.
“Mijo,” I heard my father call from somewhere far away. “Tony is here.”
“Huh?” That was all I could say. I was coming back, but I couldn’t form any words.
“Go on in there,” he said to Tony. “Looks like he was pretty sound asleep.”
I could hear it all, but it was slow to make sense, and slowly I was able to focus my eyes on the objects in my room. I could see that it was still light, but beginning to get dark.
“What the hell are you doing taking a nap?” Tony asked. “Get up! We’ve gotta go meet with the guys, or did you forget? You’re not gonna try and tell me you’re sick and can’t go, are you? Come on. Get your butt up.”
I was confused, and couldn’t remember how I got into bed. “Gotta … gotta quit having these weird dreams….” I said when I could finally talk, sort of. “They’re killing me. For real…. I can’t figure out what’s real and what’s not.”
Don Emilio popped his head into my bedroom doorway and said, “It is all real. Your dreams are as real as this life. Maybe even more real.”
I now realized I had heard his voice and my father’s. They had been in the living room talking. And dream or not, Don Emilio seemed to be aware of the experience I just had.
Don Emilio came into the room and sat on the bed after I got out from under the covers. I saw that I was fully dressed, including my shoes. I couldn’t figure out why I would have gotten in between the sheets wearing my shoes. I just don’t do that. I sat there on the bed with him. Tony sat on the floor across from us.
“Well, come on. Tell us about the dream,” said Tony.
So I told them about it as best I could. I was still having trouble connecting my thoughts and my words. I gave them as much of the details as I could, including crashing into the wall and disintegrating. Tony thought that part was especially funny.
“Kinda like Humpty Dumpty falling off the wall,” he laughed, “except you put all the pieces back together again.”
“Not all the pieces,” I said. “It feels like I’m still not all the way back together again yet.”
“Part of your consciousness is still in that other place,” said Don Emilio. “I know you feel uncomfortable, because it is different from how you normally are, but it is not necessarily a bad place to be. You will be your regular self soon, but I want you to know that a person can adjust and learn to speak and think normally as I am now, and yet maintain a connection with the other side. And in that manner be able to access information and guidance not readily available to people in their everyday state of awareness. That is how a shaman functions to help with healing someone. He walks between the worlds—enters into his subconscious level to see or perceive information he needs about his client or patient, or he communicates with other beings or spirits on that other level who tell him what he needs to know.”
“I wonder what that old man who looked like Tata was trying to tell me?” I responded.
“I wish you had found out some information we need to know about this meeting we have to be at in a little while,” Tony said getting serious. “Hey, you know, I’m starting to freak out about this dream. Is that how the meeting is going to turn out? They’re going to pull out a gun on us, and maybe blow us away?” Tony suddenly was looking very scared.
“Sometimes when we have strong fears, we create fearful dreams about what is to come,” continued Don Emilio. “Boys, let me say again, that there is one main truth about the way the Universe works, and that is: You Get What You Focus On, and in that way, You Create Your Own Reality. If you focus on getting beat up or shot, that will be what you bring about in your life. If you carry that negative fear into this meeting, you could reinforce the negative fears of some of those guys.
“You need to trust in this process we have been going through, and trust in the positive things about your life. You and the other boys have lived through some negative experiences. But most of the time, you and they live in a good place, with laughter, good times, and good friendship. You don’t need to let the little negative stuff, and the fear, control your lives. You can go into that meeting knowing that this is the first step to a better life for all. You can leave there feeling good about your life and about your contribution to their lives, knowing that you found a way to share this learning with your homies, and that you did not abandon them.”
“Yeah, well, that’s what Tony and I decided we were going to do, and I still want to do that. I just hope it turns out that way. You know, maybe there was some information for us in that dream. The old man said not to worry about those guys.”
“Trust your own insights,” said Don Emilio. “Trust that those spirits who are with you and guiding you through this life experience will help you with this one as well. Do not just hope. Rather, believe and trust that it will work out in a way that is consistent with the direction in which the two of you have focused your thoughts and your energy. That is the other side of creating your own reality––belief that what you focus on will come about.”
“Well, I’m ready to believe that it will go like we originally planned,” Tony said, no longer sounding afraid. “I’ve been looking forward to staying involved with our homies, and teaching them karate classes and eventually other things as well. That’s what we’ve been saying we want, and that’s where I have been putting my energy and my focus. So let’s get going.”
“Where are you meeting them?” Don Emilio asked.
“I’m glad you asked,” I said. “The clubhouse is over on Logan Avenue, across from the tortilleria. You gonna be there, or nearby?” I asked, hoping he would say that he’d be near.
He didn’t answer right away. He just stood there looking at each of us.
“There is no reason for me to be there,” he said finally. “You guys go on now. Be positive and believe in the power of your own energy.”
After we walked out of the house, Tony said, “Big Mike asked me to come by to be sure he didn’t need anymore help today.”
Gulp! I started to get real nervous. “You mean you might not be able to go over to the clubhouse with me?” I asked with surprise and fear in my voice.
“Jeeze, don’t get so excited. It’s late in the day, so it’s not like there’s gonna be a semi-truck unloading. I shouldn’t have much, if anything, to do.”
When we turned the corner and saw the truck outside the store, my heart started pounding. “Oh hell, this is gonna turn out like my dream, Tony!”
“Hold your horses man! Don’t jump to conclusions. Everything will be fine. Trust yourself!” Tony went into the store and talked to Mr. Amador, then came back to the front door where I waited for him. He came back looking a little frustrated.
“They’re almost finished unloading, but I have to put the price tags on, and shelve them. Shouldn’t take me more than fifteen minutes….”
“Oh God! It’s just like in my dream!” I blurted out again.
“…. if I have someone to help me,” he continued. “I’ll print out the tags and show you where to put them. We should be done quickly and get over there just a few minutes late.”
“Okay then, let’s do it!” I responded with some forced enthusiasm. This little change in the script made me feel better. I could feel the fear go away, and a feeling of confidence taking over.
Tony showed me where to put the price tags as he made them up, and I just pasted away. I was suddenly in a good mood and got so into the work that I started to whistle the tune, Whistle While You Work.
“Boy, you sure switched gears here,” Tony remarked. “First you were freaking out, now you are acting like you don’t have any concerns in the world.”
“No, you know what it is? I set aside my fears. I stopped letting fear take over. As Don Emilio was telling us to do, I began again to trust that what we set out to do would happen. I mean that’s the direction all our efforts have been headed towards. I guess I chose to trust that, rather than to build up the fear. It felt like when I let go of the fear, I could feel everything else falling into place. And suddenly it made sense to just focus on what was in front of me—putting on price tags. Being in the moment, as Don Emilio would say. And by being in the moment fully, I could feel a shift, maybe a little opening into another level of awareness, and I sorta felt an assurance, a knowing, that everything will go well. I felt so good, I just started whistling.”
“Right on, homie. If it works for you, well …” and Tony started whistling the same tune, with a big gleam in his eye and his head bouncing around as he worked, as if to try to show me a smile while his lips were puckered to whistle.
He was right, it really didn’t take much time, and before long we were done and on our way through Chicano Park and walking along Logan Avenue toward the clubhouse.
Tony insisted that he be the one to make the proposal about the karate classes, because he was really into it and had been itching to get started with these classes. For the past few weeks, after karate classes he had been talking about the instructor’s teaching approach rather than just focusing on learning and practicing the moves being taught.
So I agreed to let him do the talking. In my dream, I didn’t convince but a few guys to let us do these classes. I figured that was a clear message to let Tony do it. Similar to what we had learned from Don Emilio, Tony was directing lots of energy and enthusiasm into this concept of karate and energy classes for the guys and getting more excited and animated in his talking as we got closer. He seemed to literally be a bursting ball of energy by the time we got to the clubhouse door. I decided that the best thing for me was to support him by channeling my energy to him.
We walked in the door and it seemed like deja vu all over again. It was like I was repeating my dream, except that Tony was added to the picture. They started shouting like before, getting meaner and meaner. But Tony seemed to somehow rise above it all. He ignored the negative comments and the verbal threats and just laughed and joked with the guys as if they weren’t serious. But then things settled down to business.
“Shut the hell up, Tony!” Manuel yelled. “Shut up, all of you,” he yelled again. “We got some serious business to deal with here.”
“Damn straight, it’s serious business.” Tony jumped right back into it. “Vincent and I have been working our asses off learning important stuff from the brujo, stuff that’s going to help all of you and help our barrio. We’ve been learning how to increase our power, our energy. We’ve been learning how to tap into the power of the Universe and to use it to make things happen that will benefit us all. The first step in tapping into that energy was learning how to increase it and move it through our bodies. Part of that was learning karate and Toltec energy movements. Just learning those energy movements could help you sissies from getting the crap beat out of you.”
“Oh damn, Tony!” I whispered to him. I knew that was going to get them going again. Guys were yelling at Tony for calling them sissies and implying that anyone could whip them. Why in the hell did he challenge them like that? I thought we were done for. But Tony stood his ground and kept his smile. I was surprised that he challenged them so directly. But he acted like he knew what he was doing, so I just sucked it up and stood my ground too. I decided again that I would just continue sending energy Tony’s way to help him through this.
“Vincent and I have been so busy with school, work, and the brujo that we can’t hang out with you guys like before. But we’ve learned a lot, and we want to share it with you.”
All the while he was talking, Carlos and Flaco kept on a constant countering dialogue.
“We don’t need no help from them bastards.”
“All we need is to kick their ass.”
“Right on, bro. Don’t nobody skip out on our homies.”
“Yeah. They gotta pay.”
The other guys were listening to them and to Tony. Tony just ignored them and continued.
“So we’ve got a proposal. We think it’s time for us to give back to the barrio and to you guys. We want to change our roles. Rather than finally joining as regular members, we propose that we be your personal instructors. And we’ll start off with Toltec energy movements and karate lessons. And later, if you want, we can add in other stuff we’ve learned from the brujo, like….”
“Like mind reading,” yelled Pablito. “I wanna learn how you do that!”
“We don’t need none of that,” yelled Carlos.
Flaco, who along with Carlos had been talking the whole time and challenging Tony jumped toward the front of the room. “I don’t need none of this bull. And I don’t need no karate to kick your ass!”
Flaco moved toward Tony, and when no one jumped in to stop him, he decided to go for it. Flaco, who wasn’t so flaco anymore, must have outweighed Tony by forty pounds and was four to five inches taller. He reared back his right fist and sent it right at Tony’s face as he charged toward Tony.
In a classic karate movement, Tony deflected the blow, stepped aside, and used the force of the charging body to help him flip Flaco onto his back. He hit the floor with a loud thud. The room fell silent as Flaco just laid there on his back, totally stunned. He even started to laugh softly at his own surprise that he ended up on the floor.
“How did you do that?” Flaco asked as he stared up at the ceiling.
Then the noise started up again, with guys yelling at each other and at Tony.
“Pinche cabrón! What a move, Tony!”
“Yeah, what a move, Tony,” someone said sarcastically, then added “Get up Flaco and kick his ass!”
“Hey Tony, teach me how to do that,” Flaco said, still staring up at the ceiling.
“Come on, Flaco, get up. Get him.”
“Hey man, let’s don’t wait for Flaco to get up. We’re here to whip both their asses. Let’s get it on.”
“I’m ready, lets go!”
Suddenly Manuel pounded his fist on the table, and again yelled, “Shut the hell up! Shut up, dammit! We’re gonna cut out all this crap right now, once and for all.”
My jaw dropped. He had on that loose Pendleton shirt. Just like in my dream, he reached around behind the shirt….
“Oh God, no,” I thought to myself, “it can’t be….”
…and he pulled out his bandana headband. He put it on his head, jumped into a karate pose, and said to Tony, “Come on homie, let’s get started with these lessons. You don’t got no time to waste.”
We both stood there frozen from the shock.
Manuel stared at Tony, then at me, then back at Tony.
“Hey, what’s wrong man? You vatos look like you seen a ghost.”
“I … we thought you were gonna pull out a gun,” I answered.
“Hell, you guys think I’m crazy? First of all, I don’t own a gun. Second, it would be stupid for me to walk down the street and into this place carrying a gun. What if I got stopped by a cop and he frisked me? And third, you don’t never pull no gun on your homies. If anyone ever did that, they’d be kicked out of here, right after I hit him over the head with it.”
“But a lot of the guys were yelling and screaming for us to get beat up,” said Tony, “and for someone to pop us.”
Most of the guys were laughing now.
“They were yelling all that stuff just to scare you guys. It was Pablito’s idea.”
“I wanted to see if you guys could read our minds,” said Pablito as he walked up with a big grin on his face. “Got you back, ese,” he said as he lightly punched Tony on the shoulder.
“Since that day at Danny’s house,” Manuel continued, “when I first heard about the brujo being here, I been checking you out, and been hearing from the guys about how you been doing, workin’ with him and stuff. I even talked with my grandfather about it. At first he said it was just someone teaching you about old magic, and it didn’t mean nothin’. He said lots of people get sucked into that and just waste their time or cause problems for themselves. But later, I told him I heard what the Brujo was teaching had really helped you guys, and that you were trying to find a way to help the rest of us learn about it. He seemed really pleased about that, and said this must be a good man and a good Brujo. He asked me to watch out for you and the Brujo, and to help you if I could.”
Manuel jumped back into the karate stance and moved his hands back and forth like he was ready to practice some moves. “So,” he said, “after we finish these karate lessons, are you guys gonna teach us some of the other stuff the Brujo’s been teaching you?”
“Uh … well … I….” Tony stammered. At first, he didn’t know what to say. The question was a complete surprise. This is what we had been hoping for, but we were willing to settle for just doing karate classes, and then see what happens next.
“Well, at least start with a little bit, the easy stuff,” he urged, “so we can kinda get to know what it’s all about, okay?”
Tony and I looked at each other. The shock on Tony’s face faded as we both broke out into big smiles and started nodding our heads.
“Well, sure, of course.” answered Tony. “Okay!”
“Well then, like I said, homies, let’s get on with it!”
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