Don’t Let Me Die in Disneyland by J.A. Marzán is a picaresque, smart, and smartass memoir of Harvard lawyer Eddie Loperena’s Newyorican life in “the country I was offered.” Here is an exclusive excerpt from the novel:
I phoned for a Chinese lunch then rolled another sheet into the typewriter. The phone rang. The caller let the outgoing message play completely. “Socrates, you there?” I picked up. “Carlos?”
“Hey, my maaaan!”
After more than twenty years Carlos sounded as he did when we both lived on the second floors of adjoining buildings and from his fire escape he called me to come out to my fire escape so we could hang out, two stories over our block…the street’s asphalt our turf for stickball, with manhole covers for home and second base; the tar plant across the street, its wall perfect for King, Queen and Jack played with a pink Spalding ball; the bodega that never once closed beside the empty lot that remained a rat-infested dump until a public housing project bulldozed it, our buildings, and the entire street off the municipal map…
“Hey, Soc, you there?”
“I’m here. It’s really great to hear from you, Carlos.”
“Well, that makes me feel real good, ’cause I been meanin’ to get in touch with you. I see you’re a big deal in the community. Seen you in The Daily News. I brag to my friends, that’s my man Socrates, my little brother, the big lawyer. Many times I thought of calling but I know you’re busy and my situation is crowded too with all kinds of shit…”
…Muscular Carlos, who started pumping the weights he got for Christmas after seeing Charles Atlas’s physique so many times on the back covers of comic books, who bounced the pink Spalding ball off the stoop faster than any other player, who held the King’s square longer than any pretender, whose stickball bat could only hit home runs, the same Carlos who would also sit out on the fire escape alone for hours and sketch the rows of buildings, the domino players in front of the bodega, the tar factory trucks being filled with big black cans, sketching because he was born with the ability and wanted to be a commercial artist, what his mother told him his father was…
“…so I didn’t want to just crash in on your life, you know.”
…and my protective big brother, always watching out for his skinny best friend, once sending that bucktoothed crybaby Georgie Adamici home bawling with a broken nose because Georgie had lost his mind and tried to push me around after he heard I had been alone with his sister in their apartment.
“Well, Carlos, I’m glad you called because I’ve been thinking about you too.”
A door I meant to open only a crack suddenly flew wide open. Now Carlos waited for me to walk in, say what I had been thinking about my forgotten, closest, discarded friend.
“So, Carlos, what are you up to these days?” I gritted my teeth, knowing what Carlos had been up to for a long time.
“Oh, you know, independent businessman, and I was doing very good, but it looks like hard times are coming, and that’s why I’m calling you, little brother.”
I almost repeated my answering machine message about not taking any more cases.
“As I said, I’m hitting some hard times now. Not just in my business. I been working solo since my wife split last year.”
“I’m sorry, I know how…”
“No kids. I mean we did have one, but he died…anyway that’s the past.”
“How’s your family?”
“Before I met my wife, my whole family started dying, man. First my abuela…”
Hooked-nosed Doña Perla, whom Mami Lalia paid to take care of me after school, ever cooking beside her Spanish radio soap operas. She must have been over ninety.
“I’m sorry, Carlos…”
“…Then right after my abuela died, my moms found out she had a tumor in her breast. She didn’t last a year, man. My aunt was already gone a long time before. So things are like that, okay.”
…Carlos’ mom Vivian wore tight skirts and on my entering puberty, always got me horny. Her older sister Nicolasa came home from the shirt factory and walked around the apartment in wired brassieres, her big tits bulging out. Carlos’ family, crammed into that one-bedroom apartment identical to ours, adjacent to our bedroom wall…
“But I didn’t call to talk about that.” He cleared his throat. “I got this problem I need some help on.”
“You need a lawyer?”
“No, man, I need somebody I can trust. I need to move around, have to travel light. I need to leave a couple of suitcases with you.” After my silence: “Not what you’re thinking, man, just paper. A lot of valuable papers. I need to leave them somewhere for a while. Are you catching what I’m pitching, Eddie?”
“I think so, but Carlos…” He was calling from a street phone and a recorded voice was asking for another deposit. His coin jingled down.
“Listen to me, man. I gotta hurry. Nobody in my business knows nothing about me and you. Everybody thinks I’m talkin’ out my ass when I talk about you anyway. Just in case, that’s why I’m calling and not going to your office. Unless your phone is tapped, nobody knows nothin’ about this call.”
“Who’s after you?”
“My competitors, Soc. You can’t step into this. This is street shit not for you. Just write down my will.”
“Now, understand, I’d like to get the suitcases back, but life is life. So let me just leave you my will.”
“But is this illegal money, Carlos. I won’t be able to execute your will.”
“Soc, Soc, just listen to me, okay? I never said nothing about money. But this is my will: If something happens to me, those important papers are yours, little brother.”
“Carlos, I can’t—”
“Don’t, don’t, don’t, Socrates, I ain’t got time. I got things to take care of real fast, so I’ll be in touch with more details. Later, bro.” He hung up.
I stared out at nothing, wondering how without moving I had stepped into a forgotten room in the blueprint of my life. Now that I planned to resign as professional minority citizen from this culture as packaged for My People, to leave The Community behind, Carlos calls for me, croaking from the middle of our sociological swamp.