Boy Kings of Texas: A Memoirby Domingo Martinez
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER AND NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST
A lyrical and authentic book that recounts the story of a border-town family in Brownsville, Texas in the 1980's, as each member of the family desperately tries to assimilate and escape life on the border to become "real" Americans, even at the expense of their shared family history. This is/b>… See more details below
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER AND NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST
A lyrical and authentic book that recounts the story of a border-town family in Brownsville, Texas in the 1980's, as each member of the family desperately tries to assimilate and escape life on the border to become "real" Americans, even at the expense of their shared family history. This is really un-mined territory in the memoir genre that gives in-depth insight into a previously unexplored corner of America.
- Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
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THE BOY KINGS OF TEXASA MEMOIR
By DOMINGO MARTINEZ
Lyons PressCopyright © 2012 Domingo Martinez
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBORDER JUSTICE
"They were children themselves, my, mother and father, when they started having children in 1967 on the border of South Texas. Dad had just graduated from high school and in a panic asked my, another to marry, him because he wanted to avoid the Vietnam War draft. Mom had eagerly, agreed, in order to escape something even worse.
"They had three girls in three successive summers, and were then happily, surprised by a boy the following ,year. Having done her duty in producing a son for her husband, Mom was allowed some ten months off from incubating yet another child. Or maybe Dad had finally discovered condoms. Perhaps they'd bought a television. Whatever the reason, there was a full eighteen months before I was born, the fifth child and a second son, at least for a while.
Most of the kids had been born in August or September, roughly, nine months after Thanksgiving, when the Dallas Cowboys traditionally, played. Dad had been a Cowboys fan since their inception, traditionally, their winning streak in the late 1960s coincided with the conception of most of his children. The year I was next to be born, the Cowboys didn't win, so I was conceived sometime during grain season, when he was maybe flush with cash and had come home drunk, which is possibly, the reason I hate sports and am very, fond of bread.
* * *
Collectively, we have vague and dreamlike memories from those early, days of the burgeoning family, but one stands out for all of us. In it, Dad surprises us one afternoon by bringing home the smallest puppy we had ever seen. We stand around him and watch him feeding it with a bottle, and after a while he cups it in the palms of his hands and offers it to one of my, sisters while the rest of us watched this and cooed enviously: "There was no sway, she was going to keep this dog to herself, we had all subconsciously, decided.
The puppy was black, with tiny, brown feet, and as we had only recently been introduced to English when the oldest kids entered kindergarten, we were limited on possibilities when it came time to name it. The name "Blackie" caught on quickly, and we were immensely satisfied with our creativity, at giving the dog a name in English.
We were big on names back then. We each went by a nom de guerre as kids. The eldest, Sylvia, was called la flaca, or "the skinny, girl." Margarita, the second oldest, was Tata, or Tita when we were feeling kinder to her, because as toddlers, Sylvia would look at her and yell, "Ta! Ta! Ta! Ta! Ta!"—in Spanish, of course.
The third girl, Maria de los Angeles, was called la guera, or "blondie," in a way, because she was fair skinned and born with light hair. My, older brother Daniel was called ¡Denny!, always with that exclamation point. Dan grew up startled. And I was, as Domingo Martinez, Jr., called Yuñior, eventually, to be called "June," when we made the switch to English.
I was a boy, named "June."
This must have been about 1976, maybe 1977. When we got him, Blackie, a Chihuahua blend mixed with something equally, rodentian, was still just a few weeks old. I remember we tried our best as a family to be as good to the dog as possible, even though I was just four or five years old. The dog was a new project; the pack of children had never quite come together like that before, and we tried to outdo one another showing kindness to the new family pet.
The dog, on the other hand, very likely would have disagreed, because in a family with five children under nine years of age, and parents who were no more than children themselves, Blackie must have thought he was a victim of relentless torment. But such was the love we knew.
Margarita, or Marge, as she was eventually, renamed, had previously insisted on a dog, as she developed an early fixation with lap dogs that would last her whole life. I think Mom gave in to her as a way of an apology after Dan threw a large D-sized battery at Marge while they, were playing under the laundry, shack. It split her forehead open. Dan threw the battery out of jealousy, as he felt Mom was giving Marge far too much attention. Dan has always been a bit too protective of the things he loved.
So we were all surprised when Dad brought the tiny, puppy home in a blanket, coddled it as it fed adorably, on a disproportionately gigantic bottle of warmed milk, and then ceremoniously handed him over to Marge, who murmured lovingly at the dog and quickly forgot the huge cut on her forehead, though I don't believe Mom really ever did. Mom vas also quite overprotective of her favorite things.
Meanwhile, Blackie began his adjustment to the loud, large family. He was molecular in size—perfect for children—and we loved him to death. We doted on him constantly: We fed him and pet him until he was so annoyed at our attention that he snapped at us, yapped at us.
We didn't care.
Marge made sure Blackie slept with her at night on her thin, yellow cotton blanket. He would curl up in the ribbed crook between her knees and growled every time she moved, so she'd wake up with a stiff back but she would never tell anyone about it. I would force a bowl of leftovers at Blackie when everyone else was gone, lying on the floor on my stomach so I could see eye-to-eye with this black and chocolate rat with the cold nose. He'd get annoyed with me and snap at my hand and face with his vicious, tiny teeth, but I didn't care, because we all loved him, this yappy, puppy with the heart of a wolf.
Mare, the third oldest and youngest of the girls, had always been a bit sickly and asthmatic. She had been delivered at home by a mid-,wife, and it had been a difficult birth. She had come through with a Gaul, and because her umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck, she was blue and had to be resuscitated. Now at age six, she had developed allergies to almost anything with dander, and as such, she wasn't very close to the dog, but Mare and Marge were best friends, so Mare loved the dog by proxy. Sylvia, as the oldest, joined in on the care and feeding and tormenting of the dog, but from a distance. Syl had the burden of being the oldest child, and that took up most of her focus, pushing the uncertain and undetermined boundaries.
Dan took care of the dog, too. He put Blackie in a big basket and carried him around the front yard and through the pervasive junk field from Grampa's trucking business that perpetually surrounded our house. There were bits and parts of derelict dump trucks, machinery, backhoes and axles, open barrels of spent oil and split tires that wound in a trail through the back of our property. Somehow, every morning, Dad and Grampa would manage to put eight ailing dump trucks and a front-end loader/backhoe to work, out of the dismal lot. Dan would carry the dog in the basket on a tour of this, the only path we knew as kids with absolute certainty.
As he walked by with the dog in the basket, the oily Mexican mechanics and drivers who worked for Grampa would look up from their greasy business and snicker at Dan, because they, saw him as a developing pansy. A young man showing affection—any sort of affection, even to a puppy-was not macho, even at six. His tight shorts didn't help, either. But hey: It was hot, and the kid grew fist.
* * *
Some months later we couldn't find Blackie one morning. We happily orchestrated a search party like we'd seen in cartoons and then spent the better part of the morning searching loudly around our house and in the native, still-wild property, across Oklahoma Avenue. It was Gramma who finally found him, ripped to shreds behind her pigsty,, bleeding from his eyes and ears, his tail chewed off completely. Dad was the first to respond to Gramma's screams, the first to cry, out, which immediately gave those of us who weren't already doing it the cue to wail uncontrollably. None of us knew the dog had meant so much even to him, and though it came as an unsettling surprise to us in our collective horror to see our father crying, we each continued to anguish independently at the foul murder of our beloved Blackie.
But then Dad became quiet, uncharacteristically composed, as he dug a hole behind the pigsty where we would bury Blackie with the minimum pathetic honor a family, of children could summon.
None of us questioned who'd been responsible. We all knew who had done it, who had been the villains behind such terrible violence. It was the dog pack that lived with Elogio, Dad's stepuncle, a few houses to our west. We all knew this without evidence or even discussion, and needed neither for our conclusion. Elogio's dogs, about five or six of them, terrified the dusty length of Oklahoma Avenue.
Elogio and his four sons clearly felt that Dad and his family, did not belong in the Rubio barrio, since Gramma had married into the barrio when Dad vas already four years old, a child from another man. Elogio was our Grampa's usurping younger brother, and he wanted control of the family trucking business that Grampa had built. As Grampds stepson, Dad challenged Elogio's succession. It was a Mexican parody of Shakespeare, in the barrio, with sweat-soaked sombreros and antiquated dump trucks.
Elogio's near-feral dogs made it unsafe for anyone to walk on that dirt road. They would charge full speed at cars driving by. They were fearless and dangerous. Somehow, Blackie had managed to escape our house, and the dogs found him and tore him to shreds.
"Lo reventáron," Dad had said to my mother when she showed up, describing in Spanish what had happened to Blackie. "Reventáron" is a difficult word to translate into English, and the very thought of that word gave me anxiety attacks in my adolescence, when the word would bubble to the surface of my thinking, after this experience. It's a combination of sensations, actually: It's part ripping, part tearing, but with an elastic resistance, like pulling apart a rubbery, living membrane-an image like bleeding rubber. When I would remember the word later, I thought the same thing was going to happen to my mind.
And that was what these dogs had done to Blackie, from what Dad had seen. That was his postmortem assessment. Bit down on each end and split the tiny mutt apart.
Dad wrapped Blackie in a white blanket as we all stood around weeping, unsure of what to do. He lowered the tiny, bundle into the hole while we surrounded him, crying all the while, and then he filled the grave with the coal-colored loam upon which Gramma's land was built, having been carved out of a larger cornfield. He affixed the small cross Gramma had fashioned from dirty, soiled planks over the small grave, and then he clutched his crying wife and children to him as Gramma said some sort of fiery prayer calling for vengeance, in Jesus's holy, name.
Dad must have been about twenty-six then, watching his family cry like that. And its only now, really, that I understood why he cried as much as we did, even though he was not exactly what you would describe as an animal lover.
There was another message in this horrible pet murder, something more disquieting that attacked the very position of Dad's family in this barrio, something I understand now, from this distance. I know now why he ,wept like that, for that dog, for us.
The Rubios had kept these dogs unfed, unloved, and hostile. Presumably it was to keep burglars away from their prototypical barrio home: a main house, built by farmhands many years before, with subsequent single-room constructions slapped together according to the needs of the coming-of-age males and their knocked-up ,wetback girlfriends. As such, the houses were consistently in varying stages of construction and deconstruction, because the boys never left home; they just brought their illegitimate children and unhappy, wives along for the only ride they knew, the one that headed nowhere.
The dog pack resulted from the same sort of impulsive decisions and behavior: They'd bring a feral puppy home when some overwhelming sense of crypto-macho sentimentality overtook them, and then they would leave the dog disregarded and abandoned, much like the families they were creating.
And now, whether consciously or subconsciously, the dog pack had grown to a level of domination on that street, establishing their position in the pack order of this barrio.
And those dogs had attacked our dog. And it would have to be answered.
The next morning is one of the few memories I have of seeing my father as an adult, as a man, as he climbed somberly into his dump truck. It's the best truck of the lot, oversize and red, fancy for the barrio business. His CB handle is "Too Tall," but the other drivers have difficulty, with English, so instead they, call him tútol.
As he pulls out of the driveway, Mom stands in the door of our house and tells me to walk out to the road, to watch as my father drives off just after the school bus had picked up the rest of the kids earlier that morning. Dad pulls out onto Oklahoma Avenue, the dirt billowing behind him as he makes his way to the state road about a mile \vest, a route that would take him past the Rubios' house. I stand in the road and watch as Dad's dump truck rumbles of while the low morning sun beats down on the tailgate, making the red paint glow orange through the dust cloud.
As if on cue, the wild dogs run at the dump truck when he drives past the Rubios' house, barking and snapping at the tires. Except this time my, father slows his truck with menacing purpose and leans out of the driver's side window with a .22-caliber revolver. I hear hire shoot repeatedly, shoot every single dog as close to the head as he can. And as they all lay, there dying, gray and brown lumps in the dusty, early morning road, he continues his drive to work, and I don't ever remember feeling so proud of my father again.
Chapter TwoHIS FAVORITE PLACE
In those rare moments when my father was gripped by paternal obligation, he ,would attempt to bridge the widening gap that was developing between us with an awkward father/son exchange, more often than not by asking whether I'd had my cock sucked yet or had bedded a cousin. I was fourteen, and that gap was widening daily.
My, father wasn't a complicated man, you can be sure. I think at this time he actually took pride in his coarser urges. Or, more accurately; in his ability to get them satisfied. And he would teach his boys this quality, so help him Jesus.
But one day, he catches me off guard when he asks, "Where's your favorite place?"
I don't have to think about it too long on that stifling South Texas afternoon. I knew it could be anywhere other than these talcum-powder farm roads he had us constantly traveling, tending to his deteriorating trucking business. We were Sisyphean wetbacks with a back load of dirt or sand or grain or corn, grimly traveling the same fields, the same roads, the same faces.
Yet his question has an uncharacteristic lure of soul-searching, something that might even be approaching the thoughtful. So I try to answer with some due sense of hope, introspection. But I have to be careful.
The last time he asked something similar I got a knuckle to the temple for answering his spirit-lifting questions truthfully. "In ten years from now, who are you gonna be?" That's a translation from his Spanish. I think he was drunk.
I was ten, sitting in the passenger side of his red dump truck, and we were driving. I thought about his question for a moment, looked around at the dismal, shortsighted South Texas surroundings, at the complete absence of hope. I muttered, "Dead, hopefully," mostly to myself. I didn't think he'd heard me, but then he suddenly exploded into one of his tantrums, which resulted in a lump on the side of my forehead. So today, I'm more cautious, but cryptic.
"I think my favorite place is the water bed at night," 1 say.
Back then, it really was. Those summer nights down there could get suffocating. My, sisters had all gone off to college and I'd moved into their bedroom, where they left a disco-era waterbed, undulating and slowly leaking away. At night, I could lie there and look at the stars through the badly screened windows, and think about escaping. About what life was going to be like ,when I was able to get away from this place. But Dad has never been one for romanticism. He doesn't take the bait.
"Mine's inside a nice, warm pussy," he tells me with a big smile, like he's just said the smartest thing he's ever thought, and I should be equally impressed.
Instead, I am horrified at this declaration. Even today I cringe when this memory forces its way, to the surface. It is visceral, twists my stomach into knots. His face is beaming with boyish satisfaction as he slowly, deliberately, in a singsong exclamation, enunciates the words "Nice. Warm. Pussy."
We are sitting in the cab of his dump truck. I am opposite him. He is haloed by the nuclear sunlight behind him. It is close to 100 degrees outside and no one in my family lives any farther away than twenty, miles from where we now sit. I simply cannot run far enough away, from this man. His mustachioed upper lip curls when he forms the word warm, and for a moment his mouth becomes vulvular, creating the image of female pudenda, and I think I might try to turn gay to get as far away, from my Dad as possible. It's the only, plausible solution.
Oh dear God, please, I pray, silently, turn me gay. Please turn me guy.
Excerpted from THE BOY KINGS OF TEXAS by DOMINGO MARTINEZ Copyright © 2012 by Domingo Martinez. Excerpted by permission of Lyons Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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