... Carlos’s lessons, Celia’s fears
After talking to Celia, Pete drove down around McGee Park hoping he might spot Carlos. That proved fruitless, so he drove home to the small single wide mobile home on his land where he’d lived since he opened the driving range. The former hustler even had a small garden for vegetables. Not that Pete was a great cook, but the basics he knew, and wouldn’t starve.
His dad had been a stranger, and Pete saw him only once. He’d been fifteen, going to school still, when his mom pointed the man out in a supermarket. He looked fat to young Pete.
Pete learned his golf from an older, golfer friend, who later taught him how to hustle the gringo gamblers. The man taught him what to look for, how to play his mark in, then, to set the hook and take the money, graciously. He showed Pete how to play them along by losing small amounts over a period of weeks and letting the mark raise the bet confidently, himself. Finally, he showed him how to win a little... then more, all the time graciously.
Pete handled it like sort of a job. He helped his mom with her expenses because she never let him down as a kid. His father, his mom said, never let a month go by without sending her something; he, at least, had a conscience.
He’d been seventeen when the money stopped coming. His mom said the man had died in a car accident. She saw it in the paper. He quit school then to help her pay the rent.
After his mom’s death from lung cancer, he got a little money from an insurance policy his father provided for her. It gave him some cushion to get better at his hustle. Later, at twenty-one, he went to Qualifying School to compete for a PGA touring-pro card, but, looking at the caliber of players trying for so few playing cards to come out of the school, he rethought his plan. It would be easier to start a driving range if he could find the right land.
The problem had been to find land with a decent source of water, so it took a while. Finally he found twenty acres he could afford. Still, the well cost twenty dollars a foot to drill and he had to go down 200 feet. Four-thousand dollars, just for the digging, he negotiated to work for the guy that did the drilling, it took him two years to pay for the drilling, and the well itself. Enough water for a subdivision of houses, so he never worried about a dry well.
The point, with all of this analysis, showed that, compared to Carlos, Pete had it better. At least in terms of financial support in the beginning. Pete always knew his mom lived for him, and his father might have been a cheater where his wife was concerned, but he tried to give Pete’s mom what he could to help raise him.
Carlos, on the other hand, had a father who was a drunk. A mean one according to what his grandma said. Carlos’s anger with his dad had been imbedded from a history he couldn’t ever see changing. Based on the boy’s explosion of powerful athleticism at the range, he possessed a lethal mix of pent-up fear as well as hate in addition to his raw-talent. As much as Pete could admire the boy’s dedication to hitting a golf ball, the chances were good he’d never learn what the real game could teach him.
The kid had a grandmother who would probably die for him. But, his mother couldn’t bring herself to do the thing most needed. As much as she loved her son, her husband’s hold on her was too great. Pete had seen plenty of this anomaly of circumstances growing up, he understood it now, more than when he was a kid. Carlos, at thirteen had his own problems, it asked too much to expect him to understand his mom’s fatalistic thinking.
Unless Pete and Carlos’s grandmother found a better way, a thirteen year old boy could be headed for big trouble.
When Carlos showed up for work Monday he didn’t feel much better than Saturday. But, he still worked hard and even hit balls. It gave him time to plan. He had to figure a way to keep his dad from taking his money. No way was he going to work and then let his dad turn his money into beer piss.
He decided to talk to his Grammy Celia. She had a small savings account. She saved as much as she could to make sure Carlos had something to start with when she died. Carlos didn’t want the money, first because he didn’t want his grandma to die, and second because he would just have to give the money to his mom since she would never leave his dad. It belonged to Grammy Celia and she should use it for herself.
The idea of the savings account, Carlos liked. Maybe there’d be a way he could give his money to Grammy Celia and she could put it with her own? That way his dad would never again simply grab his money.
He started picking the balls up faster, that could be good, but the problem was still getting the money to his grandma. Cash would be too much for his dad to pass up. His grandma and him would need to plan things out. He also wanted to make more money.
There at the range, Carlos heard Pete had a reputation for gambling when he played regularly. They called him a hustler. Carlos wasn’t sure exactly what that meant in golf, but he’d heard the same term at the gym. A boxing-hustler was someone who had a backer, a guy with money who’d bet the fighter could beat another fighter.
The day of the fight, the fighter would pretend like he was getting beat for a few rounds. This enabled the fighter’s money guy to increase the bets, which made the bettors hungry for a piece of easy money. When the money-guy had raised the ante enough for a big payday, he would signal the fighter to start really fighting.
Carlos wondered if hustling in golf was the same. How did that work, and how much money could someone make? He figured he could ask Pete about this.
Later, Pete came over to where Carlos practiced and watched him for a minute. "You feelin’ any better today, kid?"
"I feel fine." Carlos lied.
"Sure you do. Anyway, if you want to talk about anything, let me know." Pete turned to leave.
"Tell me somethin’. What do these customers mean when they say you’re a hustler?"
"Who said that?" Pete asked.
"Just some of the people who come out here. Is it true, can you make money hustlin’ in this game?"
"You don’t know anywhere near enough about this game to think about doing that." Pete looked surprised.
"You know I can learn. What’s so hard about that?" Carlos pushed the issue.
"I said, you don’t know anything about the game yet, there’s a lot you’d have to learn, about yourself, and about people who play this game. And that’s not even talking about the stuff you’d need to learn about playing. Banging balls on a driving range is one thing, playing a good game of golf is a whole other breed of cat." Carlos shrugged his challenge. "Tell you what, kid. Let’s break out that sand-wedge you don’t really like, it might show you something about what this game is about."
Carlos shrugged again and said. "Show me."
Pete threw twenty balls or so into the sand trap he’d built– that few people used. He handed the sand-wedge to the aspiring hustler and pointed him into the sand trap to "hit ‘em out."
Carlos walked in the trap and set himself up to the first ball and grounded the club behind it, about to take the club back when Pete said, "Hey man, that’s a two stroke penalty, or the loss of the hole, you can’t let your club touch the sand, come on! That’s a hazard."
"Why?" Carlos frowned.
"First, a sand trap is a hazard, you never get to ground your club in a hazard. Not even when you’re not going to hit the ball. Second, golf is a game of rules played by gentlemen, you follow the rules or you don’t play."
Carlos shrugged, rules, gentlemen? What’s this ‘toro’ crap about? Pero, sí, he could do that.
He dug his feet a couple of inches into the sand because it didn’t feel solid to him. He drew the club back as always and swung it sort of slowly but with his knee-bump perfect... he thought. The sand-wedge hit about two inches behind the ball and skidded into the center of the ball and stopped because the sand built up behind where he was planning on hitting the ball. The golf ball thunked just below the lip of the trap and trickled back into the sand, not too far from where he first hit it. Pete said nothing.
Carlos dug in again and figured, okay, if he tried to hit closer to the ball and a little harder, that should work. This time he swung a little harder but the flange of the sand wedge went underneath the ball and stopped once again. This time the ball popped up and came down about three feet away. Pete said, "You’re already on your fifth stroke kid, and you’re still in the trap."
"Sí, ya lo veo." -Yeah, I get it-
"Tonce. Here’s a hint. When you dug your feet in the sand, which is okay, you should have gripped down on the sand-wedge to compensate for the fact your hands are then too far from the ball. Me comprendes?"
"Okay, sí. But I ain’t no ‘tonce.’"
"You ain’t no Einstein either."
"What’s an Einstein?"
He made the adjustment and then hit three balls immediately over the makeshift green. Finally, Pete showed him how to gauge the sand, lay open the face of the club and slide the flange under the sand taking only enough to make the ball come out and land softly on the green. He saw and felt for himself how much easier he could hit the ball by letting the club continue on through, not so deep it wouldn’t stop. He needed a lot of practice Pete said, "This is the finesse part of the game, it can save a lot of mon... uh, grief if you want to really learn the game."
Carlos again felt something about learning a skill. His mind didn’t tell him in just that way, but it felt right to him. He practiced in the sand every day for the next week when he could, in between trotting the range with his ball-retrievers.
He never mentioned to Pete that his father had stolen his money. The hours he spent working and practicing, hardened his body. The hours he spent thinking, hardened his mind. He wouldn’t go look for his dad, but, he’d be ready.
Tonight Carlos and Grammy Celia needed to talk, he would get paid tomorrow. He had to find out about savings accounts. When he got home, his mom cooked pozolè, a Mexican soup made from hominy, chili, vegetables, and chicken or pork. The house always smelled good when his mama cooked. Grammy Celia would make both tortillas de maiz y harina. He liked the ‘tortillas de harina,’ -flour-, because they would get crispy when put on a steel plate over one of the burners, not like corn-tortillas, which were oil-fried in a pan to get them crisp.
After dinner Grammy Celia and Carlos did dishes and talked. "Grammy Celia, what do I have to do to get a savings account at el banco?"
His grammy stared at him, seriously at first, then smiled and asked, "You have talked to someone about saving?"
"Grammy, you told me you had a savings account. Recuerdas?" Who else could he talk to about a savings account?
Grammy Celia nodded and said gently, "Well first of all, to make it easier to do, it would be better if you have your money paid to you in the form of un cheque de banco, sabes?" -a bank check-
"No. Que es un cheque?"
"Well, it is a piece of paper the people you work for pay you. They sign it and say they owe you the money and el banco lets you put that in your savings." His grandma explained how the check was a draft against the employer’s bank account who gave you the check. So, their bank would give your bank the money.
Carlos sort of understood, but he wondered if Pete knew about these cheques. And how would he ask him to give him one?
The next day, before he started picking up the range balls, he fidgeted as he got the retrievers, and straightened the ball buckets around the ball-wash. It was hard to work up the courage to ask. Especially if you really didn’t quite know how to ask for it and sound like you knew about it. The stuff about things like banks wasn’t really something Chicanos, like Carlos and people he knew, sat around and talked about. The few friends he had, talked mostly about girls and drinking beer and about growin’ up.
Pete startled him and asked, "What’s up, kid? You need somethin’?"
"I was thinkin,’ today’s payday, right?"
"Right, sure. You need your money now?"
Carlos bit his lip thinking. He fidgeted and finally asked quickly. "Could I get paid with a check, please?"
Pete pursed his lips, looked over at the boy, tilted his head and said, "You know what’s weird kid?"
Carlos stared at the ex-hustler. "What?"
"Well, I just got through making out a check for you. I have to put you on the payroll and you need to get a Social-Security number from the government. So I can show where my money went. Sabes?"
Carlos didn’t know what Pete was talking about, but he didn’t care. He didn’t have to worry about asking for anything, it was already done. Pete handed him a small piece of fancy engraved paper, one side had the bank name, Carlos’s name, and the amount of money the check was for, it showed a place where Pete had signed it. The other side had some lines lightly printed and said something about ‘endorsing,’ whatever that meant.
Carlos thought this was great. There was no cash for his dad to get. He put the check in his pocket and smiled and nodded. "Okay. This is good."
He took the ball-retrievers and headed for the range, almost skipping.
Celia Alvarez, still worried. For whatever reason, Carlito, her grandson, had made a decision about getting a savings account, es fantastico. She’d told him enough about checks so he could arrange for Pete Sanchez to pay him that way. Maybe Sanchez had already told the boy about savings accounts, está bien.
But, Celia worried about Benito. He’d left behind him all that made him his father’s son. Even though he worked for the railroad, he still drank too much. He could remain sober enough to do his job in the daytime, but every evening he drank as though he were un borracho puerco -pig-. Sometimes he came home and pretended at being a real husband and father, because the railroad asked him, or threatened him, to sober-up and clean-up. Only then.
It had not kept him from terrorizing Rosario when he went into one of his rages. And neither did it stop him from beating his son, little Carlito. Celia could picture a short distance in the future. Carlos would soon grow bigger and stronger than his father. What then?
The boy was her corazón, her heart. It would kill her if Benito, her own son, recognized this too, and decided to do something about him before he grew stronger. That would be tragic.
But the real danger, she knew, could be Carlos taking his rage out on his father and ending up throwing his life away in a wasted use of who he really should be. The kind of anger Carlito had in him, she feared, would destroy him by blinding him to how good he could be as a real man, like his grandfather.
She and Carlito’s grandfather, had married hace quarenta años.-forty years ago- They were as much in love as two people could be. Both from agri-circuit families who worked in the Imperial Valley. They worked hard for very little money, but they had pride, stuck together and helped each other. Carlos and Celia had become legal American citizens after coming into the country with green cards as children.
Carlos Alvarez, Senior, quit school at sixteen because his family needed him to work the fields. Celia stayed in school until she was fifteen, then she had to quit to help her mother. Their marriage, though certainly not arranged, seemed the most natural thing which could happen.
Celia’s pregnancy, was brutally tough but she managed with a mid-wife, and their son Benito was born. He’d been a little sickly for the first two or three years of his life, but slowly his health improved. Something must have gone wrong with her healing, she couldn’t conceive after that. It didn’t decrease Carlos’s love for her, he still loved his Celia, and his son Benito. Nor did it decrease her love for her two men.
When Benito married Rosario, they stayed with Celia and Grandpa Carlos. He wasn’t ready for marriage, content to let Celia take care of his wife and soon, his baby Carlos. He and his dad fought constantly, but finally, he landed a job with the railroad, not high paying, but he got a weekly paycheck, and somehow managed to keep from being fired.
It had been eight years since tragedy struck. Celia’s Carlos, her loving husband, was killed by a harvesting machine when the driver suffered a heart attack. A horrible accident and it put pressure to grow-up on Benito, but he still resisted. It was Celia who had to show the strength for the family to continue to stay together. Benito would not.
Rosario and Celia found work as cleaning-help wherever they could and eventually built a list of several upper, middle-class, white families, where they would get paid small amounts for very hard work. They worked because their pride wouldn’t let them take any kind of charity. The small insurance payments Celia got from her husband’s death, she spent mostly over time to fill in for the checks Benito never brought home from work. A pattern developed, their way of life emerged, somehow they managed.
But Benito was still nothing more than an obstinate adolescent, even as an adult. His drinking would not permit him to think of his money as a necessity for his family. That’s why thirteen-year-old Carlos got his job... and hated his father.
She decided she must talk with Benito, regardless of the fact previous efforts accomplished little.
She imagined Benito, after a weekend bender of drinking and playing the big spender with his drunken buddies, would sober up enough to work Monday morning. She would go and confront him. She had little faith in doing more than preventing him from hounding his son for money. Carlos had the right to spend his money as he wanted, not as Benito might see as some kind of payback for himself.
She’d been there one other time, over an issue of attempting to persuade him to, at least, set aside some small amount of his paycheck for his family. He hadn’t listened. She met him at the same picnic table in a small park maintained by the railroad.
"Ola, Mamacita, que necesitas?" -What do you need-
Benito, she knew, had spotted her as soon as she entered the park area. "Benito, mi hijo, I need to talk with you, por favor."
"No tengo dinero, mama," Benito said, without knowing what his mother wanted to talk about. -I have no money.-
"Benito, no quiero dinero. I know better, hijo, but it is your son I speak for."
Benito had the contemptible sneer that seemed now to be natural for him. "Por que? Can’t the little puto talk for himself?"
"He is your blood, Benito. He is trying to become un hombre, responsable, sabes? The least you could do is allow him to grow up as un buen hombre. Comprendes?
Celia knew her words were falling on deaf ears. Still, Carlos deserved the chance to grow up without the influence of this poor wretched individual who got lost in his alcoholic stupor. She hoped she might at least shame him into leaving his son alone. "Benito, por favor, let your son grow into a real man. Not like yourself. It’s the least you can do."
Benito only sneered at her. "Why should the little cabron have it any better than me, Mamacita?"
"The only reason, mi hijo, that you think you had it bad, is that you never woke up from your beer and weed dreams to see the real world. Lo siento. I am wasting my time here." Celia turned sadly from her son, lo siento, pero es verdad, - sorry, but true- he was unable to discuss anything requiring his compassion.