From the Publisher
"A tremendous debut...full of heart and courage and a ferocious honesty."--Junot Diaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
“Hilarious, unique, heartfelt and sharp. A wonderful read.”-Sandra Cisneros, author of the acclaimed The House on Mango Street and Caramelo
“Chulito introduces a fresh, engaging, and stirring voice. Rice-Gonzalez’s memorable characters live on the page with a force and verve and vulnerability that touches our heart. This is a beautiful debut.”-Jaime Manrique, author of Latin Moon in Manhattan and Eminent Maricones.
Read an Excerpt
Chulito awoke with a hard-on as usual. He looked down his smooth, brown chest past the black strands sprouting around his navel to see the head of his dick poking up at him through his bed sheet. He greeted it with a firm gentle squeeze. "Hola, papito."
The old window shade in his tiny room cast a Creamsicle glow from the sun rays that shot off a big metallic sign from one of the many Auto Glass shops that lined the street across from his building.
The sounds of trucks revving and barreling along Garrison Avenue mixed with the cries of “auto glass! auto glass! auto glass!” from the guys who competed with each other to lure cars with broken windshields, cracked mirrors or busted headlights into their respective shops.
Chulito stood naked in front of the full length mirror on the back of his door. That spring, with just some push-ups and sit-ups, smooth hard muscles came out of nowhere and he looked like a Latino, hip hop version of Michaelangelo’s David. He crossed his arms over his chest, fingers underneath each armpit and thumbs pointing up to the ceiling. He shifted his weight onto his right hip, tilted his head, tucked his chin into his neck, and contorted his pretty boy face into a mean gangsta snarl.
He then popped a CD into his system and mouthed out the words along with Big Pun. When the percussion popped into the song, he bopped his head and challenged his own image in the mirror.
As Chulito slipped into the bathroom across the hall from his room, his nostrils filled with the comforting smell of freshly brewed café Bustelo. He heard his mother, Carmen, talking in the kitchen with Maria from upstairs about her son Carlos who was coming home from his first year at college. All week he’d heard Maria’s slippers make sounds like sandpaper scratching on the bare wood floor as she prepared Carlos’s room, which was right above his.
Chulito was excited too. Carlos used to be his boy. They were real tight from the day Carlos and Maria moved into the building. Carlos was five, almost a year older than Chulito, and would come home from kindergarten and teach Chulito the songs he’d learned. Growing up, they played together all the time snowball fights, trick or treating on Halloween, going to Joe’s for ices, or sneaking into El Coche Strip Club and laughing real hard when they got chased out by the old Irish owner.
But that was before all the shit came down.
It started when they went to different schools. Chulito went to Stevenson High School, the local school that everyone in Hunts Point attended, but Carlos got accepted into the Bronx High School of Science in the North Bronx, a school for the gifted and intelligent. Maria threw him a party when he got accepted and took a second job to buy him a new laptop. Then Carlos started dressing differently, like one of those white boys in the J. Crew catalogs. Chulito didn’t care, at first; he thought Carlos looked cool and sophisticated. They still spent time together. Carlos helped him with homework and they rode the #6 train to Parkchester to see movies on the weekends. They were always together. Then, people in the neighborhood started calling Carlos a pato.
“We should kick his faggot ass to show him a lesson,” said Looney Tunes, one of the fellas who hung out on the corner and lived in Chulito’s building. Looney Tunes earned his name because as a kid he ran home from school to watch cartoons. He even watched them on videotape, sang the songs and imitated the noises and sound effects. He grew out of it, but the name stuck.
Chulito stared Looney Tunes down. “Yo, Carlos is my boy and he from the ‘hood, so cut that shit.”
“Protecting your boyfriend?” Looney Tunes teased. Chulito responded with a punch that knocked Looney Tunes on his ass and required three stitches on the inside of his mouth. So, everybody left Carlos alone including Chulito. It was just what he had to do to be correct with the fellas. Carlos tried to stay connected, but he was placed in pato exile no one looked at him or talked to him.
Chulito hated treating Carlos as if he were invisible whenever he ran into him in the Bella Vista pizza shop or saw him walking up the block. Chulito got heated when the fellas made “faggot this” and “faggot that” comments when Carlos passed the corner, but he kept it in check. He’s successfully avoided Carlos until one day, while coming out of the bodega, he collided with him. The fellas were on the corner right outside the door watching. Carlos looked surprised at first then the corners of his mouth curled into a smile. Chulito wanted to say sorry or excuse me but instead said, “Watch where you’re fucking walking.” The fellas laughed. The hurt in Carlos’ eyes haunted him for the next week.
He finally went to meet Carlos at his school, which was safely a world away from Hunts Point. He was worried that things with the fellas could get out of hand. He wanted to protect Carlos so he told him to get correct and stop fagging out.
Carlos looked down at his fitted yellow Polo shirt, straight-legged jeans and red Adidas sneakers with the white stripes and held out his slim arms. “There’s nothing wrong with me, Chulito. There’s nothing wrong with not wearing baggy, drooping pants and Timberlands all the time. Look around, people dress all different kinds of ways. And I’m still the same Carlos. It’s the neighborhood’s that’s fucked up.”
Chulito checked out Carlos’ friends who were waiting nearby. Two of the young women wore bright sundresses and sandals and one had dark make-up and the other looked scrubbed clean; a young black kid had tight braids streaming down his head and wore a vest with no shirt and loose sweat pants and white sneakers; a tall guy had long blond dreads, a tight dark green tank top, snug dusty black jeans and black combat boots; and an Asian guy had the loose baggy hip hop gear he was used to seeing and his head was shave into a Mohawk.
Chulito looked back at Carlos. He wanted to confess that he missed him, he missed the movies and the walks near the empty industrial streets of the Hunts Point Food Market, the laughs, and the long telephone conversations where Carlos told him the storylines of the books he was reading, but instead said, “I’m just trying to look out for you, ‘cause the fellas be getting worked up about you.” Chulito’s hands were deep in his pockets and he looked at the ground.
“Thanks for looking out for me, Chulito. I know you’re not like the rest of those assholes.” Carlos touched his shoulder. Chulito’s heart quickened.