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Published on October 14th, 2013 | by Apuntes LJ

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Cariño

An excerpt from Hunts Point (a book in progress) by Charles Rice-González

About the Author
CharlesRiceGonzalezBAADPhotobyMarisolDiaz2010RS Charles Rice-González, born in Puerto Rico and reared in the Bronx, is a writer, long-time community and LGBT activist, and Executive Director of BAAD! The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance. He received a B.A. in Communications from Adelphi University and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Goddard College. His debut novel, Chulito, was released in October 2011, and he co-edited, with Charlie Vázquez, From Macho to Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction released in August 2011. He is also an award-winning playwright and serves on the boards of the Bronx Council on the Arts and the National Association of Latino Art and Cultures.

Cariño

I go to share the bochinche that Agustín, the viejito who has owned the corner bodega since forever, is family with Julio, my only true comrade in Hunts Point.  Julio owns the travel agency a few stores up the avenue from Agustin’s bodega.  If I was going to lead a gay pride parade in Hunts Point it would consist of me, Julio, Puti the crippled, pathetic drag queen who was always looking out of her window, and Lee, whose family owned the Chinese Restaurant across the street from Julio’s travel agency.  Lee just graduated from NYU and would be leaving Hunt Point to go to Yale Law.  I’m so jealous of him for being able to get out of here.  And Puti, I basically stay away from. Oh, and now I could add Agustin to that list.

“I don’t want to end up like Agustín, Julio.  Alone and emotionally twisted.”

Julio stands next to me as we look out on Hunts Point Avenue.  “Ay please Carlos, there’s no way you’re ending up alone and closeted like Agustín.  It’s too late for that.  I look at you and I think of myself 10 years ago when I was your age.”

“But I’m not forty five.”

“Is that what college taught you?  To disrespect your elders?”

Julio is my hero.  He has always been fiercely fino.  I don’t know how I would have survived Hunts Point if it weren’t for him.  I think I was about 7 years old the first time I heard him referred to as a pato and I knew that I wanted to be close to him.  I would stop by his agency and say hi and he would give me a lollipop or a quarter for the gumball machine in his office.  He said that he knew I was family the minute he saw me.

I notice Julio looking at a Latina baby dyke walking down the block.  I move closer to the glass window to get a better look.  Her Timberlands thump on the pavement.  She’s wearing a baseball cap pulled low to her brow and skewed to the right, a rich royal blue triple X size t-shirt tucked a bit in the front into big baggy jeans to reveal the shiny buckle of a black Kenneth Cole belt.

“Who is that, is she new around here?”

Julio playfully pushes me.  “She’s been here forever.  That’s Cariño.  Remember her?  She’s always been a little marimacho.”

I watch her nod greetings to those looking at her 5 foot or so frame walking tall, pressing up against everything weighing her down.

Julio opens his shop door and waves her over.

“‘sssup, Julio.”  Cariño strikes a pose.  Hands in pocket.  Neat and clean. She leans into her left hip just like the fellas who hang out on the corner, but I don’t recall ever seeing her with them.  Not ever.

“Hola Cariño you looking good.  Got a date?” Julio asks.

Cariño glares at Julio.

“Relax, Cariño.  I meant it as a compliment.  Do you two know each other?”  Julio shut the door to his agency.

“‘sssup, Cah-losss.”  Her sibilance betrays the hardness she works to convey.  I’m surprised that she knows my name.  She pats her chest.  “Cariño here.  I ain’t sseen you around much, but heard you were away at college.  Please to make it official.”

Her handshake feels like a small vice grip.  I shake my hand loose.

“You wanna sit down for a minute, m’ija?  Or you in a hurry looking all cute.”  Julio holds the door open and invites her in.

“I’m meeting up with Enrique.  He wants me to go to this with him.” She reaches into her back pocket and pulls out a neatly folded flyer on hot pink paper.

Lady Pink and women graffiti artists

to paint historic wall for BAAD!ASS WOMEN’S FESTIVAL

May 31st, 12noon-6pm on Barretto Street, between Garrison and Lafayette.

All welcome.

 “Since when you hang with Enrique?”  Julio pours a cup of coffee and offers some to me and Cariño.  We shake our heads.

“I’m posing for one of his paintings.”

“I thought he only painted boys.” Julio snaps his fingers.  “Real boys.”

“You got it right, pa.”  Cariño winks and stands taller.

She matches all the gestures and intonations of the macho assholes in the neighborhood.  Wishing she’d chose better men to emulate, I get bored with her macho posturing and flip through a travel magazine.

Cariño complains about the long hours posing and the lack of air conditioning in Enrique’s basement studio on Faile Street, but she’s just bragging about being Enrique’s subject.

I continue to flip through the magazine.  “So who’s Enrique?”

Julio explains that Enrique whom everyone calls Rique, pronounced Reek, is working on a series of paintings of ghetto boys in the style of renaissance portraits.  He titles each painting after the model who posed for it – Cocoa-nuts, Davey, Brick.

Cariño puffs her chest. “I’m posin’, yo.”  She says she has posed through half a dozen four hour sessions.

Cariño’s cell phone plays “Eine Kleine Nacht Musik” in sharp, tinny notes.  Not what I was expecting.

“Yo Rique, wassup.  Nuttin’ just chillin’ at Julio’s Travel Agency.  Where you at, bro?  Come meet me here.”

A few moments later, Enrique taps on the plate glass window.  He shields his eyes to look through the spaces between the travel posters to see inside.    His wild mass of black curly hair is held up and away from his face with a dark purple bandanna.  He wears dark aviator sunglasses and a tight, crisp new ribbed tank top squeezed onto his narrow torso.  His tight, low hanging jeans and white high top Converse sneakers are speckled and splotched with paint.  He steps into the shop with a spring in his step that is nothing like the slow bops of the fellas in the neighborhood.  It looks like he is preparing to soar into the air.  He kisses Julio on the cheek and grabs Cariño in a head lock.

“Yo what the-?  You sstupid?  What’ss wrong wi’choo comin’ up on a nigga like that?  I coulda drop flipped ya ass.”  Cariño shakes out of Enrique’s grasp and smooths out her shirt and adjusts her cap.

“You know you love it.”

“Use some deodorant, yo.”

Enrique sniffs his underarms.  “Mmmmmm.  Smells like teen spirit.”

“You nasty.”  Cariño smacks his arm.

Julio pulls out a roll-on deodorant from his top draw.  “Lift your arms.”  He smooths it onto Enrique, closes the lid and hands it to him.  “Keep it.”

Cariño laughs.  “Oh no he didn’t.”

“I got some at home, I just forget to use it.  And my scent don’t bother me.”

“Do it for the environment.”  Julio high fives Cariño.

I feel like the uninvited guest at a private party.  With all the grandstanding and bitching I do with Julio about there being no gay people in Hunts Point, here are two young people completely comfortable in their skin. I wonder where Cariño lived.  How did her family treat her?  I want to see Enrique’s studio on Faile Street.  I wonder what they did when they were outside the agency door, on the streets of Hunts Point.  Are they as chummy?  Do they smile as much or was it back to scowls and glares?

Faile Street is just a few blocks north of Hunts Point Avenue.  Is there another world on the other side of the street?  Who are the other gay people living in Hunts Point?  And are they people I would want to know?  Or are they sad ghetto cases like Puti?

Enrique shoves the small deodorant into his pocket which pushes his jeans down lower revealing a small line of creamy skin where his boxers and t-shirt don’t meet.  I look from the small line of skin to Enrique eyes.  He smiles and holds out his hand.  “I’m Enrique, you’re Carlos, right?”

I get caught checking him out and I blush.  “We’ve never met, right?”

“Nope, but I heard about you and the mini-Stonewall riot you was a part of a couple of summers ago.  I live down on Faile Street.  I don’t come over this way a lot, except to see Titi Julio.”

Julio hugs Enrique.  “He’s a good gay.  Not like Carlos who has to be dragged into my shop just to catch up.”

“I was away at school, and I haven’t been around the last couple of summers, but I came right over this morning, right?”

Julio sits next to me.  “Ay, yes you did…to gossip.”

Enrique reaches under his shirt and rubs his tummy.  “Gossip about what?”

Cariño looks away and shakes her head.  “Not about you, sstupid.”

Julio extends his hand to Enrique.  “Ay help me up.  I always have trouble getting up from this couch.”

I push Julio’s butt to help him up. “So why do sit in it?”

“Because this is my shop and I will sit wherever the hell I want. Remember, I was a Young Lord.”

“Really?  I didn’t know that.”

Julio pats my head. “Carlos, there is so much you don’t know.  I wasn’t like one of those on the front line, but I was there.”

Cariño adjusts her cap which doesn’t need adjusting. “What’s a Young Lord?  A gang?”

Julio shakes his head and looks up to the heavens.  “Ay, why don’t they teach this in schools already?”  He turns attention to Cariño.  “It was a movement, well, it still is a movement because many of us are still alive and making change in big and small ways, but I’ll tell you more another time.”

I realized that Julio always had a poster in block letters that read, “Pa’lante, Siempre, Pa’lante” and that it was the only poster in the store that wasn’t a travel poster.  “Well, I will come visit you more, I promise.  But I’m gonna be busy.”

“Busy doing what?”  Enrique sits next to me on the couch.

“Going to the Village.  Carlos is always going to the Village.”  Julio takes a sip from his coffee and the phone rings.  “What a miracle.  People never call anymore.  It’s all e-mail and texting.”  He answers the phone and we three stare at one another.

“You wanna come with us to see some graf girls tear up a wall, Carlos?”  Enrique moves in closer.  He doesn’t blink his big dark eyes, then raises his two bushy eyebrows prodding my answer.

“I was going to try to be a good gay and catch up with Julio, but maybe I’ll meet up with you later.”  My heart races and my ears pulse.  Enrique is not like the roughnecks.  He’s creative and strong and has swagger that is making me to lean in to him, too.  But I sit back and notice that Cariño is quiet and she fumbles with the flyer, folding it and pressing the creases.

Julio hangs up the phone.  “Go with them, if you could stand to be seen walking the streets of the ghetto.”

“It’s not like that.”  I look from Enrique to Cariño who is shaking her head.  “I grew up here, I’m just ready for a change.  I got a job at the Daily News and I’m be moving to Manhattan once I get myself together.”

“You gonna work at the newsspaper?”  Cariño folds her arms as if she were challenging me.  “Doing what?”

“Answering phones and proofreading at first, but eventually I’m gonna do some writing.”

Enrique jumps up from the couch.  “That’s hot.  You’re gonna get your own place, too?  Niiiice.”  He pulls out his phone.  “So give me your number, and I’ll check in with you, later.”

“Yo, what’ss going on?”  Cariño let out a sound like air from a punctured tire.  “I thought you asked me to go check out the graffiti chickss and now you gettin’ all cuchi eyes with Cahloss?  I didn’t want to go inna first place.  Girlss can’t paint.  Not like guyss.”

“Hold it, Cariño.  Women can so paint.  Lady Pink who’s going to be there is one of the best painters in the biz.”  I stand.  “There have always been women painters and today there is Claw and Muck and Too-Fly.”  Cariño looks away as if she is disinterested in what I have to say.  I feel my face flush.

Julio puts a hand on my shoulder. “Carlos, calmate.”

Cariño glares at me coldly before turning her gaze to Enrique. “Your boyfriend here likess showing off on how ssmart he iss, but he don’t know shit.”  I’m stunned that she said “shit” was like she was spitting it in my face as if my education doesn’t matter to her.  Typical.

Enrique raises one of his bushy eyebrows.  “My boyfriend seems to know his shit.”  Enrique puts his arm around my shoulder.  “How do you know so much about graf girls?”

I shrug off his arm.  “Graf women! I-” and I stop because I know what I am about to say and can just imagine how they are going to receive, but I have no other cards to play.  “I did a report on them for school.”  I clench my fists by my side.

Cariño laughs.  “Oh, sso you don’t really know shit.  You just did a report.  Look around the ‘hood, Cah-loss.  I don’t need to do a report.  I see the Tatss guyss are the Mural Kingss and they earned that fucking title.  Their shit iss everywhere!  That’ss how I know girlss can’t paint.”

This is exactly the thing I hate about Hunts Point.  Gay or straight, everyone is stuck in their own little block and any new thought is a threat.

Enrique slips his slim arm around Cariño’s neck and kisses the top of her baseball cap.  “You don’t have nothing to be jealous about.  You still my muse.”

Cariño pushes him away.  “Sstop kissin’ on me.  I hate you doin’ that shit.  I don’t want any of my women to think I’m a gay boy.”

“You know you love it.”

“I don’t.  And I ain’t jealous of,” she looks me up and down and sputters, “him!  You can go to ssee those whack women paint, I’m going to the park.  Take Cah-loss wit’ you.  He needs some experience.”

Enrique pulls her in a headlock again.

“Get off me.”

“Nope, you are not breaking our date, Cariño.”  Enrique winks at me.

She laughs. “Damn, Rique.  Stop huggin’ on me.”

“You so cute.  I can’t help myself.”

Seeing them play I feel left out.  I feel jealous.  I want to apologize to Cariño but I am not interested in backing down.  I swallow my pride.  “Uh, I would like to check them out.  I mean, Cariño is right.  I should see it in action and it’s right in our own neighborhood.  I’d be a, uh, bullshitter if I didn’t go see them.”

They all stare at me like I was speaking another language.  “Can I come along?”

Enrique shakes his head and smiles, “Give me your number first.”  As he types in my number Cariño hugs Julio and says to me, “Cah-loss, this dude’ss a player.  He had to get more memory on his phone to keep all the numbers in it.”

Enrique offers me the crook of his elbow to escort me to the mural painting.

“Thanks, but I’ll go over little later.”  I sit back down on the couch.

Enrique dials my number and my phone begins to vibrate.

He winks, “Just making sure I typed it right.  We connected now Carlos.” He exits with Cariño who rolls her eyes.

Julio joins me and pats my leg.  “I love it when you’re being Martha Luther Queen, but people are different and you can’t talk to everyone in the same way, lindo.”

I get up to watch them walk down the street.  Enrique’s tall lanky body bounces with each step and Cariño’s short, low bop looks as if her boots were weighted to keep her connected to the ground.  I see how she tries to blend in to Hunts Point, but causes shockwaves with every step.

“Shit, Julio.  I really gotta get out of Hunts Point.  I don’t belong here.”  I sit back down on the couch next to Julio.

”My travel agency is like a gay community center.  I should apply for funding.”

“Besides those two, are there more who come through?”

“Lee pops over every now and then to say hey.  And the rest are just some old queens who’ve managed to survive the ‘80s.”

“Did you know Agustín was gay?”

“Never a clue until you told me.  He kept that under lock and key.”

My phone beeps alerting me that a text message has come through.

It reads: “At bodega.  Coming?”

I kiss Julio good-bye.  I see Enrique and Cariño approach the bodega on the corner where Cocoa-nuts, Franklin and Davey are assembled.   “Wait up.”

Enrique turns around and smiles broadly.  Cariño continues toward the fellas on the corner.  She barks out a strong “Wassup?”   The fellas turn, nod and return “wassups,” then continue with their conversation.  She has her hand up but no one high-fives her.  She lowers her hand, shoves it in her pocket and lifts her chin.  She dresses like most other eighteen year old guys in the neighborhood and she has a small light moustache that she often strokes as if it needs grooming.  Her style and manner is just like the fellas.  Even her short temper and rage is familiar.  She does all she could to blend into her idea of a neighborhood where the tough fellas ruled and the women exist for their pleasure and service.  Yet, her attempts to be like every other guy in the ‘hood makes her less visible.

“I was hoping you wouldn’t stay away.”  Enrique was a half foot taller than me and starts to put an arm around me, but I stop him.

“Don’t play yourself Enrique, I really do want to go see wassup with the Graffiti women.”

Cariño chuckles and elbows Enrique. “Cahloss ain’t so easy.”

Enrique shoves her playfully. “It’s a matter of time.”

I’m a little insulted that they are talking as if I weren’t there and I also love how close they are.

Enrique points to Agustín’s bodega. “Wanna soda?  On me.”

“Diet Pepsi.”

I wait outside and sit on a parked car close, but not too close, to Cariño and the fellas, yet close enough to listen in on their conversation.

Davey licks his lips.  “Oh, I heard about those chicks coming to paint, but who gives a fuck.  We got Tats Cru and they the shit.”

“I’m going ‘cause Enrique iss cool peepss and invited me.  I’m posing for one of his picturess.”

“Yo, dat posin’ sheet is deeficult, mon.” Cocoa-nuts strikes a pose.  “I ‘ad to stand like dis for hours and hours.  The picture came out nice, dough.”

Davey licks his lips, again.  “Mine was pretty dope, too.”

“He ain’t paint me,” Franklin protests.

“No?”  Cariño smiles.  “Probably because he’ss looking for a particular type, you know.”

“Yeah, mon.  He look for de tough niggas. So, sorry Franklin.”

They all laugh, including Cariño.  “Well, fellas,” Cariño pretends to brush dust from her shoulders. “He’s painting me.”

There was a collective “Wut?”

The bell on Rivera’s door jingles and Enrique appears.  “Wassup, fellas.  Here Cariño, I got you a water.”

Franklin steps to Enrique. “Yo, how come you ain’t paint me and you painting her?  I thought you was only painting fellas?”

“I might paint you, Franklin.  Don’t know yet.  Cariño, you coming?”

When Cariño, Enrique and I reach Barretto Street, the long brick wall that is usually chipped and tagged is painted a smooth pristine white.  The two bald gay guys and the white woman who run the art center that organize the mural painting are setting out jugs of water with cups and big bowls of fruit.  Lady Pink and several of the women are setting up milk crates, spray paint and sizing up their respective sections of the wall while photographers and news crews capture the event.   There is a large boom box blaring disco music.

We sit across the street from the wall with our backs against the gates of closed private garages, sipping our drinks and watching the action.  It feels strange for me to be sitting here.  I can’t recall the last time I walked on Barretto.  It had to have been years.  I’ve always known about the bald guys who run the theater there and that they even did gay shows, but I just thought it was community youth stuff otherwise I figured they would’ve opened their theater downtown.

I spot Lady Pink.  “Enrique this is hot.  The woman with the long braid is Lady Pink and the one with the hat and gas mask is Claw and next to her is Muck.  The short woman down at the end is Too-Fly and she’s talking to Diva.  These are the crème de la crème.  It’s amazing that they are all here painting together.  This is historic.”

“Well let’ss ssee what they paint.”  Cariño gulps her water.

The Tats Cru van zooms up the block and parks about three feet away from us on the sidewalk across from the women.  Eight men come out and approach the women.  They talk and then the men return to their van and set themselves up to watch.  Cariño waves over the youngest Tats Cru guy.  He scurries over to us holding up his baggy pants.  He has short spiky blond hair and wears a Yankee cap with the brim turned to the back.  The smoke from the cigarette dangling on his lips causes him to squint his pale blue eyes.

“‘sup Cariño, ‘sup Rique.”

“’ssup, Dutch Boy.  Iss there beef?”

Dutch boy shrugs.  “Just lettin’ them know who’s top dog and that they’s just visitin’.”

I look at Dutch Boy defiantly. “But you guys didn’t invite them and that ain’t your wall.”

“Do I know you?”  Dutch Boy stares me down.

“Carlos.”

“Well, Carlos.  It don’t matter whose wall it is.   This is our area and we make sure everyone knows it.”

“Word up.” Cariño agrees.

The Tats Cru van blares Big Pun’s “It’s So Hard” as it speeds away up Barretto Street.

“I’m staying behind to keep an eye on things.” Dutch Boy points across the street.  “You see the one with the long braid?  That’s Lady Pink.”

“I knew that.”  Cariño smirks at me.

“She’s legendary, and is probably the only one with any skills.  The rest of them-” Dutch Boy gives them the thumbs down.

“Have you seen their work?”  I ask.

Enrique gets up and dusts off the seat of his pants.  “Carlos, I’m going to meet them.  Wanna come?”

“In a second.  Dutch Boy have you seen their work?”  I feel the heat rising in my face.

“Cah-loss has.  In books.”  Cariño high-fives Dutch Boy as they laugh.

I hold back.  “Are you two best friends or something?”

“Dutch Boy livess in my building on the avenue and we prep wallss ssometimess for Tatss Cru.”

“We take the graffiti class that Tats Cru gives at the center.”  Dutch Boy nudges Enrique with his boot.  “Enrique took the class a coupla times, but dropped out.”

“I liked the sketching part, but painting with oil is more my thing.”  Enrique winks at me.

“Yo, stop showing off in front of your fancy friend. Rique.  You ain’t foolin’ nobody.”  Dutch Boy watches Claw spray an outline of her name.  “They can’t paint for shit.”

Enrique closes the cap to his soda. “How you gonna judge their work without even seeing it?”

“C’mon Rique, I ain’t gotta see it.  Tats has been around before you and I were born and they know their shit.  I trust ‘em.”

I get up and dust myself off as well.  “Well I don’t care if they are good or if they suck, I’m glad they’re here.  As many times as I’ve seen Tats painting the big mural on Garrison Avenue they have never had any women come paint.”

Enrique stands next to me.  “That’s true.  Come to think of it they even brought in guys from France, Germany and Amsterdam, but I’ve never seen one woman.”

“That’s because women suck.”  Dutch Boy laughs and Cariño high-fives him.

Seeing Cariño bonding with Dutch Boy is pissing me off, so I cross the street.  The women were in full swing and the smell from the aerosol paint is heavy in the air.  Pink is painting a giant pink army tank shooting out hearts, Claw paints a multi-colored, three dimensional “Clawzilla,” and Too-fly paints two women that looked very much like her and are wearing baseball caps.

The woman from the arts space offers me water.

“I’m Cassandra.  Isn’t this great?”

I accept the water even though I don’t want it.

“Amazing.  My name is Carlos.”

“Oh, we’re so excited, Carlos.  It’s a beautiful day and we got news crews documenting this.” Cassandra has dark long hair and bright blue eyes.  I remember seeing her riding a bike in the neighborhood and once planting flowers in little patches of dirt around the small trees on Barretto Street.

“You gonna do any painting, Cassandra?”

“I stick to sculpting, Carlos.  I let these masters do their thing.  Help yourself to some fruit if you want.”

“Can I meet Lady Pink?”

Cassandra guides me and Enrique over.

I hold out my hand.  “Lady Pink, I’m so glad to meet you.  We spoke about year ago.  I was a journalism student out at Adelphi University and I interviewed you for a paper I did.”

Lady Pink barely looks at me.  “You guys paint?”

“I do,” Enrique says.  “Oil.  But I have mad respect for aerosol.”

“I do oils and acrylics on canvas sometimes, but this is what I love, because it’s public.  You can share it with thousands of people and it doesn’t belong to any one person, but to a whole community.”  Pink is short, but she has stature.  I watch myself around her and remind myself that I am in the presence of a master.

“It must take a particular skill to work with spray paint,” I say.

“Great skill.”  Pink shakes a spray paint can and the metal ball inside clanks rhythmically.  “A lot of these women are the best in New York City.  I’m glad we’re all working on this wall together.”

Cariño and Dutch Boy cross the street and are watching the work unfold.  Too-Fly falls off her milk crate.  Cariño and Dutch Boy laugh loudly.

“Damn, Cariño, she can’t even stand on the milk crate.”

Without missing a beat, Lady Pink marches over to them.  “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing.”  Dutch Boy answers solemnly.

“I know you down with Tats Cru, Dutch Boy, but don’t cause problems.”

“I’m probably better than most of these chicks.” Dutch Boy says under his breath.

Cariño snickers.

“These women are better than most of the guys out there.  Now scat ‘cause we got a lot of work to do.”  Lady Pink turns to Too Fly.  “You OK?”

She nods and continues painting.

Cariño and Dutch Boy lean into each other and laugh some more.

Lady Pink calls out across the street.  “What are you laughing at?  You look like a boy, but I can see you’re a girl.”

Dutch Boy chortles and spins around.  “Spooked.  Busted.”

“Sso what.  Chickss can’t paint.” Cariño takes a strong stance.

Lady Pink shakes her head, walks away and continues painting her section of the wall.  She looks regal standing on a ladder reaching the top part of her wall that was over six feet tall.

Cariño, Dutch Boy, Enrique and I sit back across the street, talk and watch the murals unfold.

The works went from abstract images, to giant tags swirling with color and shapes.  The colors on Lady Pink’s big pink army tank were vibrant and warm and the hearts and flowers shooting from it seemed to leap off the wall.  I notice a small patch of white wall right before Pink’s mural.

“Yo, Dutch Boy, you have to admit ssome of those muralss are dope.”

Dutch Boy shrugs. “Some are but most are graffiti 101.”  He cackles.

Lady Pink looks over.  “Sister, come over here.”  She calls out to Cariño.

“I wasn’t laughing,” Cariño defends herself.

“I don’t care, c’mere.”

Lady Pink sips a coffee.  “What’s your favorite color?”

“On the wall?”

“No, your favorite color.”

Cariño points to her royal blue shirt.  Pink reaches into her milk crate and finds a can that matches it.  Pink writes Cariño’s name in the unpainted white patch near her mural.  She hands Cariño the paint can.  “Do something.”

Cariño takes three steps back as if Lady Pink offered her a dead rat.  “I can’t paint.”

“If you don’t want to do it, cool.  But don’t say you can’t do it.”

Cariño looks down the block at the women finishing their murals and commenting on each other’s work.

“It can be anything you want.  I’ll show you how to handle the spray can.”  Pink shakes the paint can.  I want to run to Cariño and encourage her to paint, but Pink’s actions are like a laser pointing right to the heart of the situation.  I look at Enrique and he smiles.

Dutch Boy yells.  “Don’t do it, Cariño, you gonna suck.”

“Fuck him.”  Lady Pink holds out the can.  “Think of something, anything.”

Cariño smiles.  “A rainbow.”

“What kind?  A regular one?  A gay one?  One that has crazy colors?”

Cariño accepts the can of spray paint.  Enrique and I clap.  Lady Pink takes a bow and waves us off.  “OK, guys, don’t distract her.  She’s got some work to do.”

Cariño smiles for the first time since I met her.  Lady Pink gives Cariño some basic instructions and leads her to the wall.  Cariño sprays a big, uneven royal blue streak.  “Fuck, I messed up.”

Enrique, Dutch Boy and I cross the street and approach Cariño.

“Step back, guys.”  Lady Pink is only about 5’4″ but her presence creates a barricade between us and Cariño.

“I just want to say good-bye.”  Enrique extends his hand and Pink shakes it.

“Stay strong brother and keep doing your art.”  Pink winks.

“Thanks, I’ve been inspired, so I’m headed to my studio to do some work.   You wanna come, Carlos?”  Enrique grins in a way that clearly shows his less than honorable intentions.

“I’d like to but, I want to see everyone finish up.”  And at the same time I really want to go with him.  He’s unlike any guy I know in Hunts Point.

“I gotta bounce, yo.”  Dutch Boy turns to Lady Pink.  “I give you props.  Your mural is slammin’.”

“I’m glad you like my mural, but you’re in no position to be giving me props.”

He snickers and walks up Barretto Street away from the murals.

Enrique talks to the other women as they pack up their spray cans.

Cassandra calls out, “Can all the women gather around for a group photo?”

As they assemble themselves, Lady Pink waves Cariño over.  She slips in beside Lady Pink just as the photo is snapped.

“I gotta go, Cariño, but you can keep my crate of paints.”

I watch Cariño painstakingly perfect her rainbow.  I am fascinated by how hard she is trying to create the design she wants.  I can’t leave her alone.

Kenny, my friend from Brooklyn, keeps texting me, and I keep postponing my trip down to the Village.  I finally tell him that I’ll meet up with him another day.  Every now and then Cariño looks over to me and I nod or let her know what I think.  When the sun sets, Cassandra drops an extension cord out BAAD!’s 2nd floor window and gives her a lamp.   Cariño works until she’s satisfied.  I walk her home when she is finished.

“Thankss for sstaying with me, bro.  I’m gonna go check it out in the morning when the ssun iss out.”

“What time?  I’ll come with you.  I can’t wait to see it in the sunlight, too.”

“Really?  You don’t have to do that.”

“I want to.  What time?”

“10?”

“See you then.”

“Thankss, Cah-loss. You can be pretty cool.”

We shake hands and she goes into her building.  I’m surprised to get props from Cariño, but that is what I’m after, I suppose.  As I stroll down Hunts Point Avenue toward Garrison I am amazed at how she went from teasing the women to taking up the challenge.  She is more than who I thought she was and I wonder what else is going on with her and with Enrique, too.  They don’t look or talk like the gay people I consider my friends, but they are in Hunts Point being who they are and so I’m thinking, Who else could be here?  It’s a hot night and people are sitting in front of their buildings, on parked cars and young children are playing on the concrete.  I wonder who else I am passing right this minute is gay?

The next morning when I arrive at the wall Cariño is already there. We check out her work in the sunlight.  She points out that someone has made the tilda over the “n” of her name into a small rainbow.   We wonder if Lady Pink came back or if Cassandra had made her mark.

“You know what?  I’ma make that my tag. My name with the little swivel rainbow over the ‘n’.”

We walk along the women’s wall.  Collectively the murals radiate color onto Barretto Street and the street looks like never before.

“Damn, Cah-loss, thiss wall iss the best I’ve ever sseen.  And I got my little tag up there, too.”  Cariño says so reverently that if she were wearing a hat I think she would have taken it off.

“This wall has left me speechless, Cariño.”

“You?”

“It’s one thing to see their work online or in a book, but to see it live is a whole other experience.”

Carino smiles.  “See, Cah-loss, ain’t nothing like the real thing and you know what I love? That it’s right here in our ‘hood.”

I surprise myself as I raise my hand and, on cue, Cariño high fives it.

 

Cariño is an excerpt of book in progress by Charles Rice-González titled Hunts Point. Charles Rice-González’s work, including his debut novel Chulito, is available at his website, www.charlesricegonzalez.com

 

Photo by jag9889 on Flickr (All rights reserved)


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