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Linda Lucero

 

Linda Zamora Lucero’s published stories are “Speak to Me of Love” (first prize,
DeMarinis Short Story Contest, Cutthroat, 2021); “When It Rains” (Yellow Medicine Review, 2020 Pushcart nominee); “Mexican Hat,” Puro Chicanx Writers of the 21st Century (Cutthroat, 2020); “Balmy Alley Forever” (Santa Clara Review 2016, reprinted in Yellow Medicine Review, 2016); “Take the Money and Run–1968” (Bilingual Review, 2015). She is the author/illustrator or “Compositions from My Kitchen/Composiciones de Mi Cocina” and “Breaking Bread in Xanadu (and Other Familiar Places).” Lucero is the Executive/Artistic Director of Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, an admission-free outdoor performing arts series in San Francisco.

Zig Zag

 

     Returning home from the gym, Beto scrolls through casting calls—a Disney voiceover sounds interesting; a recurring role as a sidekick in a detective series is a maybe. He envisions himself in a number of roles—what actor doesn’t?—although the entire industry, to put it kindly, lacks the same imagination. After watching the Giants-Dodgers game on TV, he rereads the film script for Fourth Wall, a shiver of joy runs through him. It was that freaking good. 


     When he goes to the kitchen for a Corona Light, Letty casually says, “Beto… maybe you should do Cats in Phoenix—it’s a short run—getting back on a stage would cheer you up. Just until Bernard comes through. You can stay with my aunt.” His wife is rinsing veggies at the sink in a hot pink tank top and those ridiculous purple harem pants. He can’t see her expression, but he knows where Letty’s coming from. She doesn’t have to mention the mounting bills or last night’s premiere of Gilford’s film Red Wine at Grauman’s Chinese, a mega-bummer to say the least. 


     For the last year-and-a-half, Beto’s been Tweeting his ass off: The Big Break. I’m talking EGOT-winning director Rainn Gilford and that monster cast! But watching the film, he realized he’d been cut to the opening vineyard scene, all shot from behind his left ear. Beto Cordova captured for posterity: a shadowy figure, who whispered exactly seven words: “Forward motion is not an illusion, amigo.” His intonation was fucking spot-on. From nineteen lines in five scenes reduced to three seconds, three-and-a-half at most. Ninety-nine percent of an actor’s life is dealing with rejection, but man, he felt sucker punched. He was out of the seat as soon as the final credits began rolling, Letty at his side. The studio afterparty was where he really had to act, swapping stupidities over bubbly when all he wanted was to call his manager Bernard and scream.


     “Cats?” Beto says coolly, reaching inside the fridge for a Corona Light. “In Phoenix? I can’t tie myself up, Letty. Gina Majano’s casting Fourth Wall soon. Everyone says it’s the next Get Out from a Latinx perspective. I’m due, right?” Popping the bottle cap, he takes a lengthy swig. Attitude is everything, even barefoot, in torn Levi’s and faded t-shirt. Especially. “Babe, how many Latinos are in Hollywood, features or series? Not counting CSI?” 


     Letty turns, “Seventeen,” she says with certainty. As a librarian specializing in periodicals, she peruses Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Deadline, TMZ—everything and anything in print or online, alert for random chisme that will further Beto’s career. 


     Just as she sets a pot of water on the stove, Bernard FaceTimes. Beto’s blood quickens, hoping for news on the Majano project.


     “What’s up, stranger,” Beto says. 


     Wielding a cleaver, Letty slices a red onion using more force than necessary. Letty is generally as sunny as a cheerleader, but she’s convinced Bernard doesn’t work hard enough for her hubby. 
“Champagne Tastes,” Bernard says, triumph in his voice, “and you’re welcome.” 


     According to Letty’s research, the pilot for Champagne Tastes is set to roll and they still haven’t settled on a host. Names have been floating around including a seventeen-going-on-forty so-called actress notorious for running down a pap with her yellow Lamborghini, and a TikTok celebrity. When Letty brought Champagne to Bernard’s attention, he had brushed it off, saying the search for a host was a P.R. stunt, but Letty read on Deadline that Poker Hand’s Nate Boston is filling in only until they find that Singular Somebody. Letty was certain it was Beto, until Beto protested vociferously that he’s an actor, not some dimwit game show personality. 


     “Come on, Bernard, Fourth Wall,” Beto insists. “The Marco role was written for me. ‘Marco: A thirty-seven-year-old Chicano with killer cheekbones, black hair, skin browner than dirt, lips on the thin side.’ Recognize anyone?” 


     Letty shoots Beto a don’t-waste-your-time-with-Bernard look. 

   

   “Can’t hurt to pick up a few bucks while we wait,” Bernard says. “I squeezed my peeps at TopDog because you need the work. Hey. Don’t say anything. I know.” On FaceTime Bernard looks remarkably like Yoda: white wispy hair and enigmatic gaze. “Of course, there’s Cats.”


     “Ask about Cats,” Letty echoes as she sets the table. 


     Beto is queasy at the thought. Sweltering inside a mangy costume on a Phoenix stage is going backwards. “All right, Bernard,” he says, defeat in his voice. “Deets?” 


     “Great! Letty will need to call in sick tomorrow…” Bernard says.


     “Letty?” Beto interrupts.


     “Champagne’s a couple’s show,” Bernard says. “Just remember—and this is critical—you are not in the biz. They’re looking for Average Joes, or in your case—no offense—Average Josés and Marías. You’re a truck driver and Letty’s Letty.” 


     It takes Beto a moment. “I’m a contestant?” he says, voice rising. Letty is signaling that dinner is ready. Now.


     “Forget hosting,” Bernard says. “Nate Boston is the host. But Letty’s right about one thing. If Netflix goes for it, Champagne will hit bigger than Billionaire Blues. And—who knows—you may even win the top prize. Interview’s tomorrow morning.”


   “Interview? Bern, I’m a trained actor!” 

     “Truck driver! You’ll nail it.” Bernard evaporates like a genie in a brass lamp. 

     Beto and Letty had met five years prior at a costume bash in the Laurel Canyon glass cube that J. Lo and Shonda Rhimes once lived in, obviously not at the same time. Newly unattached, Beto was ready to party. Playing another Cuban drug dealer in Miami Streets fulfilled his SAG minimum and things were moving. Dapper as a magician in a borrowed tux and top hat, a pillowy white rabbit under his arm, he shared a joint with Sherlock Holmes before bumping into his manager dressed as Neo in a wig and long trench coat. Bernard was conversing with a vivacious woman in an embroidered blouse and a long voluminous skirt, who was awkwardly balancing a cocktail in one hand and a plate of sushi in the other.


      “Letty! Beto!” Bernard shouted introductions above the fray and disappeared. At twenty-eight, Letty was beguiling—dark hair braided with yellow ribbon, generous curves, and a thick painted-on Frida unibrow that made him laugh out loud. 


     He was about to ask the obligatory, “Are you an actor?” even though she had fifteen pounds on most young female actors, but Letty spoke first, sounding breathless. “You were fabulous in A Midsummer Night’s Dream!” 


     What? Was Beto hallucinating? Counting crew, maybe forty-three people saw the two-weekend all-BIPOC production in Boyle Heights. Now, standing before him was an actual audience member who had seen him as Bottom, a lowly weaver with lofty aspirations, the role that got Robert “Beto” Cordova nominated as Best Actor: Male in a Comedy by the L.A. Theater Critics? He wanted to sweep this delightful creature off her feet and kiss her, but Beto knew better. 


     Like most of the guests, Letty knew someone who knew someone, but unlike most of Beto’s previous relationships, she didn’t make her living from show business. He had dated plenty of stunning, smart, and talented women, but Letty was different. He had never met anyone so… genuine. Now married three years, Letty is the supportive partner every actor needs. When Beto’s not working, her paycheck almost covers the rent, Beamer lease, sports club membership, movement classes, periodic teeth whitening. Letty agrees: Ryan Gosling can look like the Unabomber, but Beto’s teeth gotta sparkle like there’s no mañana. 

     Explaining the Champagne audition to Letty, Beto says, “You just need to call out sick for the morning.” 


     “I am not doing it,” Letty says flatly. 


     Beto paces the kitchen, crouched over, hands behind his back, waggling his eyebrows, growling, "Of course you realize… this means war." Letty has no idea who Groucho Marx is, but Beto’s impressions always makes her giggle. Until tonight. 


     “You’re the actor, Beto, not me. Please sit down, I’m famished.” 


     “You’re a doorbell.” Beto-speak for adorable. 


     “Phoenix is not the end of the world, Beto,” Letty says, as she begins serving. “The rent’s two months past due, and now the landlady’s adding late fees… plus the credit card…” 


     “More asparagus and less pasta for me,” Beto says. “Three slivers of sausage. OK, four. And that’s why this game show will be good.”


     “I freeze in front of people,” Letty says, heaping her plate. Truth: At their Vegas wedding, Letty could barely stammer “I do” in front of the twenty guests, most of whom were her relatives from Phoenix.


     “You let Beto Cordova do the heavy lifting. This is our chance to pay the bills,” Beto says, while thinking, And avoid Cats. T.S. Eliot, kiss my ass.

     The next morning, Britta, a willowy intern with giraffe-like legs, ushers them into a spacious suite on the 43rd floor with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Downtown L.A. They sit on the white leather sofa, Beto relaxed in black leather jacket, gray shirt, and slacks, Letty skittish in an aqua sundress and her lucky silver hoops. On the coffee table are issues of Variety and a bowl of blue M&Ms. A lively violin rendition of “thank  u, next” plays from hidden speakers. Britta leaves them a folder of paperwork to complete. Leafing through the docs, familiar terms like covenants, stipulations, waivers, indemnification, options, binders, non-disclosures, releases, arbitration fog Beto’s brain—the impenetrable legalese that covers everyone’s ass except the signatory. Without reading, he scratches his name beside yellow stickers and passes the folder to Letty. 


     Letty is finishing when a silver-haired woman rolls into the room in a red wheelchair, and slides into a space across from them. She’s wearing all black, including eyeglasses that make her look like an owl, a very attractive owl. 


     “Sheila Upps, casting,” she says breezily. “So very good to meet you.” She pronounces “very” as “veddy.” Veddy informal. Veddy relaxed. Cozy as teatime at Queen Mum’s. On her left hand is a diamond bigger than Kanye’s ego. She explains Champagne Tastes—a mashup of trivia and charades, played by couples. Contestants earn points for quickest correct responses. In the event of a tie, audience applause determines the winning couple after they undergo a Champagne Challenge. “It’s play money right now, but if the pilot is picked up, the couple with the most points after eight episodes wins one million dollars U.S. and two weeks in Paris.” 


     Holy moly-guacamole. Beto swallows hard, his mouth dry. Letty, are you paying attention? 


     “Questions?” Sheila asks.


     “No, ma’am,” Letty says sounding like a schoolgirl.


     Scanning the forms, Sheila asks whether either of them have phobias, visible tattoos, or been arrested, asks them to describe a perfect day. Digging. Sheila doesn’t take notes, but Beto can tell her owl brain is alert for the one detail that would knock them out. Husband blinks too much. Wife too competitive. Hidden aggression. Lacks humor. On the verge of a nervous breakdown. Show-off. Head too pointy. Wants this too much. Which, by this time, Beto most assuredly does. This morning the landlady again texted Letty about the rent. 


     Sheila asks, “Why Champagne?” her chin resting on her left hand.

 

     The diamond blazes in the sunlight and momentarily blinds Beto, who quickly recovers, knowing this is the final hurdle. Voice deepening, Doc Martens firmly planted, he leans forward and looks earnestly into Sheila’s eyes. “I mean for a big-rig truck driver, something like this would just be so… fricking badass,” he says. “Right, Letty?” 


      “And we need the money.” Letty sounds plaintive and unsure. She has been smoothing her skirt over her thighs, a sure sign of nerves. Beto takes her hand, proud of his wife for pushing herself, for being here. 


   “Brill!” Sheila says. “We’ll see you bright and early tomorrow.”

     Letty’s punching her pillow, stretching in her pink camisole, pressing against Beto, her dimpled arms hugging his torso before rolling over, pulling the blanket with her, kicking it off, starting all over again. At a quarter-past-two, Beto hears her rifling through drawers in the bathroom.
Beto yells, “I’m going to look like hell if I don’t get some sleep!” 


      “I took melatonin,” Letty says when she returns to bed. “Why did I ever agree to this?” The distress in her voice is palpable. Beto sits up and turns on the bedside lamp. With her bloodshot eyes and tangled hair, Letty looks like she has a date with the hangman. Beto’s heart liquifies.
“Sweetie, they want us to succeed.” Beto’s hand brushes her cheek. “Before the taping, Nate Boston will ask simple questions to put us at ease and get a feel for us. Let’s rehearse again. For instance, if Nate asks ‘What is your favorite color?’ look perky like you always do, answer ‘Blue,’ and right away I’ll come in, ‘Blue like my sweetie’s eyes.’” 


     “My eyes are brown!”


     “Close enough. Believe me, everyone likes blue eyes.” Letty shakes her head and moans.


      “Okay,” Beto says, “What’s your favorite animal?” 


      Silence. It’s as if Beto has asked Letty to discuss Aristotle’s Poetics. He nudges her. “Favorite animal?” 


      “Dogs, I guess?” she says timidly.


      “There you go! Dogs! People love dogs, especially small dogs. Puppies! I’ll chime in, ‘Letty has a puppy named Poochini.’” 


      “I don’t have a puppy!” Letty can be infuriatingly honest.


      “You did when you were a kid,” Beto reminds her.


      Letty smiles. “I was six and his name was Pancho, silly!” 


      Beto ’s heartened to see her mood lighten. “Poochini will go over better. Here’s the thing, babe. Think of us as playing two characters: Beto and Letty, working class heroes from the ’hood, with a heartbreaking story for the masses.”


     “What ’hood? What heartbreak?” Letty is unconvinced. “We’re in love. We live in an architect-designed loft in DTLA!” Sitting against the pillow, looking at Beto sideways with those petulant eyes, he thinks she is more naturally gorgeous than eighty-five percent of the actresses out there. 
“A loft with overdue rent! A truck-driver husband without a steady gig!” he says, caressing her thigh. “Not to mention a humongous hard-on!”


     “Muxz hstnbzzzzzz.” The melatonin must have kicked in. Rotten timing. 

     “And herrrrre’s Nate!!!” With this god -mic proclamation, a petite Nate Boston swaggers onto the glitzy set in a tuxedo, turquoise bowtie, and chestnut-dyed hair, pumps his fist, and runs up into the squealing audience, shaking hands along the aisle. On the stage, it’s clear that the contestants have been cherry-picked for coast-to-coast appeal. Sheila has made sure they are diverse, but not so much that species fundamentalis americanum at home will get antsy; therefore, no jarring accents or bizarre religions. 


     Nate first greets Jen and Howard, who must have been sent to represent by the NAACP in gray suits, white shirts, black square-framed spectacles. They answer Nate’s questions earnestly. Their earnings will set them up in the catering business. Boring! Beto thinks. Clearly no one has clued them in: Blacks in Television Land are expected to be jovial and boisterous. 


      Scott and Nora from Oklahoma are clothed in matching denim and plaid shirts. Cheerful, abundantly-tressed redheads with three brats at home—a demographic always in style—their winnings will repair the church steeple. Slick. Gingers and Christian. They are the enemy. 
When Nate struts to their podium, Beto’s feeling sharp in an ivory ’50s-style shirt, and Letty is va-va-voom in a bias-cut crimson dress that he selected to minimize the hips; her thick dark hair blown out. Her eyes are round and shiny as hubcaps and her hand in Beto’s is clammy, but the Xanax she downed this morning is working because she is beaming like a flight attendant in first class.


     “You’re…” Nate says, his eyes resting on Letty’s bosom. Nate’s an OG, alright. Old Goat.


     “Robert and Letty,” Beto says, gripping Nate’s hand like a truck driver. Happily, the camera is angling from his best side.


     “And you hail from…” Nate is still directing his questions to Letty’s chest. Up close he smells of cigars, a pungent bitter aroma. For a little guy, his voice is surprisingly resonant. 


     “Downtown L.A,” Beto says louder, hoping to divert attention from Letty, whose fingernails are drilling into his palm.


      Bingo. Nate turns to Beto, narrowing his eyes. “You look familiar.” That maybe Nate recognizes Beto as a park ranger in a small recurring role in Netflix’s Canyonlands Season 2, or perhaps the wisecracking bellboy who totes Danny Driver’s bags in last year’s comedy Modern Men, makes Beto feel pretty fucking great, like he’d made a lasting impression. Then he remembers I’m a truck driver, a civilian truck driver. With a shitload of motivation. 


      Beto pulls an air cigar out of his breast pocket and waggles it, rasping like Groucho. “FedEx deliveryman? Big boxes?” 


      Baffled, Nate turns to Letty, shaking his head. “Tell me, my dear—how’d you meet this clown?” 
Letty bites her lip and frowns, her eyes moistening. Smiling indulgently for the camera, Beto pleads silently, Don’t cry Letty. Eyes on the prize.


     “Beto’s not a clown. Beto’s my husband,” Letty says quietly. This is said so innocently and with such obvious love for Beto, the studio audience titters. Letty peers towards the sound, attempting to see past the blinding lights. Beto squeezes her shoulders. The perfect move because the now enthralled audience claps vigorously and at length. The applause fades away, and Letty continues with a slight hesitation, “And my favorite color is blue.” Thatta girl! My cue! 


     “Blue like…” Beto says, but Letty isn’t finished. 


     “Blue like blueberries,” she says with a smile, not a quiver in her voice. 


     “You don’t say,” Nate says, cocking his head. He faces the audience in mock confusion, his arms akimbo. The audience chuckles. 


     Letty flutters her eyelashes and giggles a charming full-throated giggle. “Yes, I do say.” “And I have a puppy named Poochini.” Far from being nervous, she appears to be feeding off the audience’s response. Beto knows that feeling intimately. There’s nothing like it. Better than coke. Better than sex. The performer-audience connection is everything. 


     Nate, the audience, even the production crew, burst out laughing, the sound running through the studio like a gurgling brook. Beto nudges his elbow into Letty’s side ever so slightly, Don’t overdo it, sweetie.


      "And what are you playing for, little lady?” Nate asks. 


      “To pay the rent,” Letty says brightly.


   Nate leans into Letty’s space, his face almost meeting hers, “Letty, are you ready for Champagne?” 


     “I’m always ready for Champagne,” Letty says, with a mischievous smile.


     Cameras rolling, Nate turns to the audience, arms wide open and shouts. “Are you ready for Champagne?” 


     “We’re ready for Champagne!” the audience shouts. The “APPLAUSE” sign flashes. 

     Nate will start with a few questions centered on Contemporary American Theater. In Beto’s world these would be—for starters—Who is Culture Clash? The 1491s? Sterlin Harjo? Dominique Morisseau, Lauren Yee, Mary Kathryn Nagle? American artists whose work moves him to tears, both joyful and sorrowful. Beto is pumped.


      Nate’s first question: Who is Steven Sondheim? Letty buzzes before he finishes asking.


     As contestants, they’re all evenly matched, except for Letty. Letty is blazing. Movies, music, and TV are her thing, but she’s savvy about politics, art, history, pop culture, even Major League Baseball. Whenever she pounces on the buzzer, the audience cheers. Letty and Beto dance a silly tango and juggle ripe tomatoes, and when it’s over they’re leading with 75,760 points. 


     It’s muggy outside in the parking lot. “The audience was pulling for us, Beto! I felt it here,” Letty chirps, tapping her chest. “Beto and Letty, from the ’hood.” 


     “Guy couldn’t keep his sweaty hands off you.” 


     “Oh, Beto,” she says. “I’m sure Nate’s gay! Gruff and gay, that’s his persona.” Cheeks flushed, she twirls unexpectedly, her hair haloing in the afternoon sun.


     Beto’s thinking how much he’d enjoy torquing that prissy turquoise bowtie around Nate’s neck until his eyes bulge. Everything feels off kilter for Beto: Nate Boston, Champagne, his so-called career. Even his interpretive tango sucked. “I hope this is worth it.”


     “It was fun!” Sliding into the driver’s seat, she says, “Let’s stop by Garduno’s.” 


     “I love a girl with an appetite, but maybe you should lay off the carbs, at least until we hear back. The camera is brutal.” Not a nice thing to bring up, but the truth. 


     “I’m not a girl, Beto.” Letty refreshes her lipstick in the rearview mirror and flashes an easy smile. “I don’t know about you, but I’m craving a super carnitas burrito, double sour cream, y una cerveza bien, bien fría!”  She shifts the Beamer into drive and steps on the gas. 

     As soon as Letty goes to work the next day, Beto showers, pulls on his black SF Gigantes tank and black shorts and meets Bernard at Olivera’s Café, where the outdoor tables are crowded with gilded demi-gods, sipping nonfat decaf soy caps, yoga mats slung over chairs. 


     “It went ok, I guess,” Beto says, after they corral a table and order macchiatos. “Who knows when we hear back?”


     Under his blue Dodger cap, Bernard is scrolling his iPhone. “I have a good feeling about Champagne.” 


     “It’s a stopgap. What about The Fourth Wall?” 


      “Things look promising.” 


     “Yeah? Someone should rename this town Las Promesas. El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de las fucking Promesas de Porciúncula.” 


      Sitting with his mother at a nearby table, a little, brown-skinned boy is watching Beto gesture and pontificate. Beto smiles and waves at the boy. Bernard’s cell buzzes, and for the next fifteen minutes he’s pacing the curb, smiling, guffawing. “Yes!” Beto says to himself, happy at the prospect of finally getting the landlady off their ass. Basking in the sun, behind dark glasses, he follows the server as she flits from table to table. Such a cutie. He checks his iPhone. Red Wine is doing great box office. Not surprising. The weather in Phoenix is 103-degrees Fahrenheit. Two texts from Letty to call her ASAP with heart emojis.


     “Fantastic news!” Bernard says when he returns, hopping into his chair with a shitfaced grin. “Champagne has a greenlight! TopDog’s reshooting the pilot—replacing you and Letty as contestants.”


       Beto’s upbeat mood vanishes. He removes his shades. “And, uh, how’s that fantastic news?” 


     “Brace yourself!” Bernard pauses, takes a sip of coffee. “They want Letty to co-host with Nate Boston.”


      Beto snickers. “Ha! Good one.”


      “Serious. Letty’s fresh, a complete natural.” In the yawning silence that follows—a silence that swallows the sounds of chatter, clinking silverware, rumbling traffic—Beto feels like he’s stumbled into a deep black well. 


     Bernard’s voice finally breaks through with a torrent of words. “They called Letty an hour ago…flabbergasted, everyone is. She’ll need an agent and manager…Whatja think? Ain’t life something? Letty knows what’s what… so smart. That first time she asked to meet you, I could see that…” He chuckles, waves for the check, reminds Beto the Cats offer is good until Monday. “Bird in the hand, Beto, if you want it. Things are looking up. Definitely.” He leaves before the check arrives. 
This time Beto picks up Letty’s FaceTime call. “Beto, it’s crazy! Did Bernard tell you?” 


    “You’re not an actor!” He wants to shout, Me! I’m the actor! Me!, but in his daze, he can’t establish the right intonation. 


      “I wasn’t acting!” Letty protests. 


      “I coached you!” 


      “I’ll thank you in my Emmy speech!” Letty chuckles.


      In the last year, Beto’s done over eighty auditions, had six direct offers—four for commercials for the “urban” market—led inprov classses at LA TheaterSports, spoken to the graduates of CalTech’s MFA Acting Program about “What Next?” A question for the ages. He produces an oddly strangled laugh.


     “Baby! I’m joking! Aren’t you happy for me? For us? This is so unreal! Nate says we have chemistry. OMG! Chemistry!” Letty giggles. 


      Beto contemplates his hard-earned MFA, countless hours of Alexander Technique, Method, classes in stage combat, voice, movement, specialized coaching in dialects, preparing for his Big Break. Beto Cordova’s Big Break. Not Letty’s.  


     “Beto?” Letty says, “You don’t want to be a game show host.”


     “Why did I agree to this?” Beto’s voice a furious whisper. His heart is pounding inside his chest.


     “To avoid Cats?”  


     “The whole time you were flirting with Nate,” he accuses her.


   “Now we can pay off our bills and finally take a vacation. I’ll take a leave from the library. Maybe quit.”


     A suspicion pops into Beto’s mind. “Did you plan this?” As he asks, he knows that even if she had, nothing is ever promised. Letty fractures into pixels and the call drops. 


     Beto catches the little boy still gawking at him. The boy quickly frowns and looks away. Beto remembers himself at the same age, living in a four-room Victorian flat in San Francisco’s Mission District, recalls family gatherings where he grabbed everyone’s attention acting out scenes from the classic movie channel on TV. "Badges? We ain't got no badges!” His grandma whooped at those lines from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Beto spitting the words out as if he were one of those deliciously vulgar, angry Mexican bandits in control of their world. Embodying that mix of pride and defiance was exhilarating. He would never break character, despite the dollars thrust into his pockets. Money was beside the point. Afterwards he was always dizzy with happiness, knowing that he’d made his mother, so hard to please, forget her minimum-wage job cleaning offices at night, his tío forget his aching back, the family upstairs forget their impending eviction. A shy, anxious child who carried everything inside, Beto had found his power. 


     A wailing fire engine brings Beto back to Olivera’s.  He takes a deep breath. Nothing to do but to keep moving in this City of Angels. He signs the check and rises from the table. A yellow chopper cranks above in the bleached sky. Beto begins to slowly jog down the sidewalk, passing cars, cafés, paleteros, floreras, skateboarders, hazy hills in the distance. His cell vibrates. Letty. Lovely Letty. A natural. Bless Letty. He wishes her well. Beto is the opposite of natural. This is what makes him an actor. A thirty-seven-year-old Chicano actor with killer cheekbones, black hair, skin browner than dirt. Inside of him is a madman, a grandma, an addict, a raging rhinoceros, a toddler in a swing, a magician who conjures sparrows from wishes. An actor! Such a sense of happiness floods him that he laughs out loud, startling passersby. “Ladies and gents, the show goes on,” Beto says, tipping an imaginary hat and bowing low. He pockets the cell as he zigzags across Wilshire Boulevard through stalled traffic and speeds up.