“Mister, can I go to the bathroom?”
“Yeah, did you finish your warmup though?”
“Please, I have to pee.”
“Ok, go. Write a pass.”
He didn’t write a pass. He also didn’t think I saw it but I did. As Christian turned to go out the door, he tried to shift the open Coke can from being hidden behind his body to being hidden in front of his body. Why would he need to take a Coke to the bathroom?
“God damnit,” I thought.
Christian was a nice enough kid. He mostly did his work for me and appeared, on most days, to give a shit. Not that I hadn’t been warned about him. His discipline record came in one of those expandable accordion folders instead of the normal manilla variety and was pretty much full. He’d never been much of a problem for me though. I’d like to think that I understand kids like him: what matters more than anything else is respect. Show him respect and he will show you respect. Show him disrespect and he will show you disrespect.
Respect and loyalty are the two principal behaviors which every Sureño must abide by. Christian, being a member of one of the local Sureños gangs, understood that special kind of reciprocity better than most. The Sureños are a loosely related group of Hispanic gangs which span the entire country. Think of it like a franchising operation and you’re going in the right direction. Some people open a Burger King; others start a Sureños gang.
Most Sureños gangs identify themselves by utilizing the number 13 which Christian had recently tattooed on his shoulders. 1 and 3. M is the 13th letter in the alphabet and, with Sureños gangs, represents the Mexican Mafia. Gangs, like cigarette companies and fast food chains, know that the key to their longevity is to get ’em while they’re young. Christian has been involved with the Sureños since he was 13 – another symbolic use of the number.
As the youngsters age, they are put through trials and must prove their loyalty and respect. Usually these have the added element of distancing the kids form their families and their community. They’ll have the kids steal or start fights. They’ll try to have the kids get kicked out of school; not an easy feat these days. Christian was no different. He’d followed his orders and ended up in the county alternative school for 8th grade.
When Christian came back into class, the Coke can was not visible.
“You have work to do. Get to it.”
He walked immediately to his seat and I saw the Coke can appear again a few minutes later. Immediately behind Christian sits Joseph, another Hispanic student and easily my favorite kid in that class. They are sharing the Coke. They are also whispering in Spanish and generally acting weird. As I approached, the can disappeared but my finely tuned alcoholism detected the unmistakable tinge of tequila.
I retrieved the empty can after class and passed it along to the right people. The contents of the can smelled like a margarita.
“What a bitch,” slipped out under my breath. I resolved to make fun of him if he ever came back and if we ever talked about it. Probably never.
If things ran their course, Christian would only get a few days of suspension. Typical of our stupid school system, it would be out-of-school suspension and Christian would spend all of that time in the care of his Sureños brothers. They’d drink and cruse around and commit minor felonies and other mischief. However, he decided to flip out on the administrator who pulled him from class. Christian drank his whole bottle of margarita-like fluid right in front of an assistant principal, cussed him out, and then ran out of the building. It is unclear what will happen to him now but I doubt I’ll ever see him again.
Joseph also received a few days of suspension for participating in the drinking. Joseph really isn’t the kind of kid to do something like this but he has expressed the desire to ‘help’ Christian in the past. Perhaps by playing along Joseph was hoping to keep Christian’s friendship so that he could help him some other time. There’s no way to know for sure. I believe this was the first disciplinary action against Joseph. We will have to find a new manilla folder.
The next day was Valentine’s day and the girls in my 4th period were standing in a gaggle just outside my door. They talked quickly and quietly and ignored the bell for class: clearly an important conversation. All were dressed in what someone somewhere convinced them was their nicest clothing. Valentine’s day is, apparently, a big fucking deal.
And the bags. Each girl carried an assortment of bags. Probably three each. All were brightly colored in shades of red, pink, and white. Some had flowers and teddybears and boxes of chocolate. One had three balloons in the shape of hearts. After a minute or so they finally heeded my request and paraded into the classroom. Of these only Palma looked out of place. She wore jeans and a sweatshirt. Her hair was unkept. There were circles under her eyes. The girls crowded around her like bodyguards and escorted her to her seat: a protective detail resplendent with hearts and bears and boxes and hormone-addled teen fashion mistakes.
“My mom says, ‘no boyfriend, no problem,’ that’s why I don’t date,” one was saying as they walked by. A murmur of agreement from the others.
A few minutes later a knock at the door interrupted class.
“Yeah, ok, come in.”
“Cellia, Rebecca, Anthony, Palma … ”
Palma burst into tears, ran past the delivery kid, and out the door followed shortly by three girls. The kid, not knowing what just happened handed the candy-grams to me and went on to the next class.
This year, candy-grams are a fundraiser for the Latino Club. How the Latino Club was able to able to do this I do not know. Each year there is a flurry of activity in the first week of January to get fundraisers approved. It is against district policy to have two of the same fundraisers on the same day which leads to fierce competition for the obvious fundraising occasionsm Valentine’s day chief among them. Usually only the major clubs get the top slots – Beta Club, NHS, various athletic boosters. That Latino Club had one of the prime fundraising events was a bit of a coup.
These candy-grams were a simple affair: construction paper hearts in ubiquitous red and pink with a foil wrapped chocolate heart scotch-tapped to it. Obviously designed to maximize profit margins. Unlike many of our clubs which have dues in the hundreds of dollars, Latino Club asked only $15 to join. The middle of each card had a message printed on it. The particular card I held was inked:
To: Palma,From: Joseph.Message: Happy Vallentine's Day! I Love You!Love Joseph Perez XOXOXOXO