Charlie’s barbershop, downtown Pasco, across from the Department of Social and Health Services over on Court Street. Rolando and Roberto’s place, right next door to the Chinitos market, though I think they’re actually Korean. That place, a small building made of cinderblocks, that you’d miss if you blinked driving by, Barber’s pole out front, gray with a red, white and blue stripe running along the outside, covering all the graffiti and the say no to drugs murals that used to be on those walls, remnants from the turbulent 70’s and 90’s on Pasco’s East side a barrio that used to be a black neighborhood now taken over by Mexicans who just keep moving west like the white folk do since the 1980s. How do I know all this, you ask? Well from elders, mostly. My name’s Javi, short for Javier, and in my 24 years of experience missed much of the on goings of this community, but of one thing I’m certain, if you pay attention to the conversations going on around you, you learn a lot about the community, a lot about the people, and if you’re clever enough, you can learn a lot about yourself.
Now Rolando and Roberto started off as stylists, everyone said that they couldn’t do the barber thing, the viejitos who used to run the place would even make fun of them, though they sold the place in need of retirement. Rolando and Roberto, two brothers from one of the older families in Tri-cities, brothers and sisters working in administration and other areas they decided to open up a small business and call it their own. They first opened up a shop next to a new laundry mat that was over on Court and 14th, but that didn’t work out too well cause they were leasing, and issues come up like clockwork in trying to pay the lease on $10 a haircut. When business is low, it sucks, and the landlord’s like coming around like it’s the end of the world or something. So Rolando and Roberto talked up the Viejitos who used to own Charlie’s and they passed on the place at a reasonable price, and it was on.
So I walked in my first time over the summer, while I was living at my folks, on break from the University and it was like coming home. The compadre, Jose, my son’s godfather always got his haircut there, so he dropped me the referral, this after several attempts to find people at Salon’s who knew how to cut a fade with no edges.
I walked in this summer and from then on Rolando and Roberto, and the occasional free haircut from my cousin, are the only ones I trust for a shaved bottom fade. As soon as I walked in everyone was bullshitting, talking about each other’s girlfriends, wives. It was bad, like bad as in good, ‘cause I knew most of the folks waiting, from back in the day.
There’s barber’s chairs and about 14 people waiting in between, to make it go fast, everyone usually talks shit or read some magazines. Rolando’s always talking shit, and Bobby’s like the sidekick, Don Quijote’s Sancho Panza, with the belly to prove, the guy that yells “Hells Yeah” in the rap video, to back it up.
The first time I went in, I got done, and Arnold was like, ok, fifty bucks, just to see what I’d do. Knowing this, whatever we talk about in the Barbershop, stays in the barbershop. So keep this to yourself. —
“So hey Rolando, You know what I learned the other day?”
“a ver Javi, tell us”
“I learned that barbers are taught not to talk about politics or religion in the barbershop, is that true?”
Rolando looks at Bobby, then responds,
“Yeah, they just basically tell you it’s bad for business.”
“Really, pues how do they teach it, is there like a course you take”
Javi quips, smiling
“no, man, they basically tell you through the advice they give.”
Rene jumps in, the conversation having triggered a memory.
“Hey Rolo, memmer that one time?”
“Yeah, Bobby, I memmer.”
Rolando takes his cue and picks up the story,
“This one time, this customer kept asking me about my religion. I kept changing the subject, saying I don’t want to talk about it, but the guy kept on probing.”
Ramiro one of the other patrons waiting for a haircut interjects,
“Yeah, he kept asking and said he could tell I was Catholic and asked if I was ashamed of the bad things my church does,”
dice el Javi.
“Yeah, so I told him for the millionth time, I didn’t want to talk about it.”
“Yeah, we had to tell him old John Smith was the man!”
Roberto butts in with some humor
“That’s William Smith fool!”
This time Abel comes into the conversation after getting bored with the FHM magazines he was reading,
“Man, I wanna see the cooch, why don’t they show some poonany in these mothers.”
“This fool’s always talking shit and his vieja’s got him on a leash.”
Looking at Abel like he’s a fool,
“Bobby over here was cutting the hair of this big ass Mexican dude, I mean he was up to here (demonstrating with an extended hand) and the guy was built.”
“Yeah man, we had to break out the Book of Mormon!”
“N’ombre, and this guy got upset, the guy was pissed about this customer talking shit about the church, and the fool made like he was gonna get up right in the middle of his haircut!”
“Yeah, we were scared!”
“And he said, ‘Hey, didn’t you hear? He doesn’t want to talk about it!’”
“And that was the end of it.”
Terminando el cuento..
“We never saw that customer again.”
“Yeah, for reals, I was about to get my daughter to come and kick some ass.”
“Yeah, your girl’s scary like that?”
“Yeah, like that comedian Pablo Fransisco’s girlfriend, ‘You’re not dead yet? Hold my baby Pablo!’ ha ha”
Abel couldn’t resist
“No man, my baby’s in the Marines,…She’ll kick your ass Abel!”
Contesta el Rolando looking dead serious. Roberto can’t keep back from laughing at Abel’s face trying to figure out if he should be scared.
Ramiro and Abel were quite the characters, best friends from high school, the barbershop was one of the places they could kick back and reminisce about the past, and tell whopper stories que ni ellos se las creían.
Ramiro was 24, barely finished High school and worked hard to make ends meet. The guy never imagined himself being a daddy at age 17, pero life had other plans for him and he had to provide for his daughter the only way he knew how. The work was hard, but getting a paycheck every week gave him a satisfaction of being able to provide for his family.
Besides, his hyna was cool, though he liked to remember the days when his green eyes, toned body and way with words could get him any woman he wanted, or so he liked to think.
Abel was a different story, the guy got his ruca pregnant when he was sixteen, so Abel ended up with a shotgun wedding and the wife from hell, always telling him what to do.
The barbershop for Abel was a place of refuge, where he could remember the good old days, when he thought he could determine his destiny.
Abel inherited a landscaping business with his shotgun wedding, thought working with his suegro was hard at first, as he proved he could do a good job, his father-in-law let him branch out and for the most part they’d split up the jobs they had and Abel worked alone or with some workers under him if they had a lot of work to do.
Abel thought that was pretty damn good, for a high school drop out.
Rolando made a face like Javier was testing his nerves, but the Grad student came up with some pretty interesting shit sometimes, good enough for entertainment if not to threaten to throw his ass out with no haircut.
“Did you know there were Chicanos in Vietnam that switched sides and fought with the Vietcong?”
Rolando was caught off guard by the turn of the conversation, this guy Javi could throw some curves sometimes.
Rolando’s dad had served in Korea, and the family had a strong military tradition. In fact, back in those days, the military was one of the only ways to get respect for any Chicano. Rolando’s dad, Roberto’s step dad, had gone and served, and through his experience had gotten enough respect to hold down a decent job. One of their brothers had served in the gulf war, the first one, and had taken advantage of the GI bill to go to college and was now an administrator at one of the local schools. The military meant a lot to Rolando’s family, so this guy telling him Chicanos were traitors pissed him off but for real this time.
“Here’s a research paper for you,”
Thinking quickly how to prove Javi wrong
“Go look up how many Chicanos, Hispanic soldiers got medals in the war.”
“We’ve been getting the most medals since World War II, but did you know it’s hard to count because we were considered white all the way through the Vietnam war?”
“No fucking way!”
“Yeah man, that can’t be true! They treat us like wetbacks no matter where we be.”
Ramiro interjected, and Roberto started showing interest in the conversation while the rest of the people stayed all quiet like they weren’t there, but they were listening.
“Check it out, this fool invented races way back in the 1800s, and the government’s kept fucking with the definitions through laws. When it came down to immigration, fuck no, we were beaners, que dice, too indigenous to be white or to keep our land like after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which stated we were to be considered white under their laws.”
“No shit” dice Ramiro.
“No shit, It went like this, from the treaty until 1920 we were white, in 1930 we were Mexicans and deported back, in 1950 we were white again after WWII, in 1960 we were Spanish Surname, 1970 we were Spanish mother tongue and in 1980 we were Hispanic according to the government.”
“What about Chicano? Latino?”
“No man, those were names we came up with ourselves.”
“Huh?” El Abel.
“Pero when it came down to mother-fuckers dying at war and being all brave and shit, we was white!”
“Fuck, now it makes sense…when we die we’re white, when we’re alive…” Abel added
“Yeah, y watcha the only way we can tell that we had the most medals in all these wars, is cause mother-fuckers know they were always sent off to the front, to point positions and got killed first, we know they were Chicanos cause they had a Spanish surname.” Y punto.
“Does your dad have a Spanish surname, Rolo?” Abel asked
“Yeah, my dad’s last name was Davíd.”
“Fool that ain’t no Spanish surname, you know they ain’t counting him as Latino!” Ramiro butts in.
“Yes it is, just needs a little accent, that’s all.” Rolando continues.
“Anyways, since World War II, we’ve had the most medals and also the most people who died.” Javi resumes.
“I thought your ass was saying that Chicanos were traitors?” Rolando points out.
“Some Chicanos switched over, not all, most died. It’s cause they didn’t believe in us going over there and massacring civilians, it was a guerrilla war, a war of the people, and we had our own wars going on against the system at home.”
“Those were different times man.”
“I guess, different times.” Javi surrendered.
“Hey Ramiro, so how’ve you been man?”
“I’ve been cool, Javi and you?”
“Haven’t seen you forever fool, ever since high school, I’ve been good, working on a master’s degree right now.”
“Yeah, it’s been like seven years huh, fuck, I don’t think I could go to school that long.”
“About as old as my daughter.”
“Yeah, I got a son too, he’s four.”
“Orale, that’s cool ese, and the old lady? Who’d you hook up with?”
“N’ombre Ramiro, I got divorced hace unos cuatro meses. I met Esperanza in junior college, I don’t think you ever met her, she went to this private school outside of Pasco.”
“Yeah, man, well that sucks to hear, I’m still with my baby’s mom, she’s pretty cool, I bet you enjoy your freedom though! All I get for fun now is strippers now and then, don’t think it’d be worth the trouble to get involved with anyone else.”
“Chin, man, I got taken out by my ex’s friends for doing something along those lines, should have listened to my grandpa’s advice to do your dirty work somewhere that nobody knows you!”
“That’s some good advice there!” Roberto jumps in,
“Yeah man, I definitely don’t recommend all the drama that comes with messing around in your own backyard.”
“Fuck yeah.” Abel chimes in lost deep in thought, nodding his head like he just heard a convincing evangelist preacher.
“So anyways, like I was saying earlier, We’ve done some pretty fucked up shit around the world.”
“Check it out, our country’s done everything, from fucking with elections in places like Italy, Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, fuck for that matter all of Latin America places in Asia and Europe. We’ve done CIA operations abroad, infiltration and all that jazz, this thing called cultural imperialism where we impose US dominant forms economically, but check it out some of the most fucked up things our country’s done is a long the lines of torture and shit they like to call Psywar.”
“Dude, how the fuck do you know all this shit?” Abel asks
“The fucker’s a profe over at Wazzu.” Ramiro answers
“Yeah, the fuckers work me like a professor and pay me minimum wage.” Javi, under his breath
“But yeah, check this shit out, there was this guy in Brazil, I think his name was Manuel or something who got tortured by people who were trained by the US. They would torture him until he was just about ready to die, then take him to the hospital so he’d stay alive, they did that like six times then the fuckers hung his ass from a grating and tied his penis so he couldn’t pee. They pulled out his fingernails, poked needles in his dinga then dragged the guy across the floor by his huevos!”
“Fuck that would suck!” Abel came in
“Man isn’t that illegal” Ramiro asked
“Listen to this guy, he’s so full of shit!” Rolando quipped.
“Naw man, fijate, that’s not even the half of it, the fuckers went and nailed his chorizo to the table then locked him up and put on a siren!”
“Man, what did this guy do?” Abel again
“Oye, this guy was one of 35,000 to 40,000 people who were jailed and tortured by a US trained military who overthrew the democratically elected Goulart government in the 70s.”
“Fuck man, pues that was a long time ago” Abel
“Yeah, but check it ese, don’t you think they still do that shit?” Ramiro comes back curious, like he just had a bright idea,
“Memmer all the prisoner abuse in Iraq?”
“Yeah, and all those fools locked up in Cuba, I heard that shit on the news.” Roberto jumps into the conversation.
“Yeah man, that shit keeps going on all around us,” continues Javi
“All that was from this historian guy named Michael Parenti, watcha though, that wasn’t the most fucked up testimony I read about.”
“You can get more fucked up than that, a ver”
“Yeah, check it out, there were these women arrested by the DOPS in Brazil, they were these shady counterinsurgency police who were hunting communists so our government loved them and even helped to train them.”
“Dude, I heard communists are bad, that they fucking hang priests and shit.” El Abel.
“Naw man, these women were organizing the people, they were labor organizers, so they got swept up by the DOPS.”
“didn’t your moms used to be one of those Abel? Wasn’t she part of the union when they had that strike over at IBP, the meat processing plant in Wallula?” Ramiro asked
“Yeah, man, I guess they weren’t bad people then, huh.” Abel continued
“N’ombre, these women got the worst of it!” Javi resumed
“What,” looking at the other guys, smirk on his face,
“…did they get a train pulled on them?” el pinche Ramiro
“Listen to this guy,” Javi responds,
“Fuck no, these women got mutilated, one got her mouth taken away, they left a hole so she could suck up liquids to stay alive, and the other woman they cut off her nose so they looked like monsters.”
“Man, that is pretty fucked up.” Dice Abel, matter of fact.
“Mira, the DOPS logic was that they’d go back to all the communists and deter people from joining the movement.”
“Mira a que? just kidding” Abel’s attempt at a weak joke.
“Fuck man, if that happened to any of my friends I’d be like let’s go and kill these mother fuckers, Revolution this Saturday night, like that Ozomatli song!” Ramiro.
“Yeah man, but that’s not all, it took the doctor’s forever to do reconstructive surgery, cause the surgeons that did that shit, they used some state of the art techniques, the doctors from Cuba who helped the women said that there was definite U.S. hand in what they’d done to these women.”
“Shit man, that’s fucked up.” El Abel
“Oye, and how do they know that shit?” Rolando asks.
“There were some reports that came out on torture that Parenti got several of his sources from.” Continua el Javi,
“And if that doesn’t convince you of all this shit going on, there’s this other fool, an Air Force Major General who wrote about doing that shit in Southeast Asia.” “Oh yeah Javi, a ver what’d this fool say?” pregunta Ramiro
“Well basically this general talked about how he developed some PsyWar tactics in the Philippines and how they fucked with elections and other shit.”
“Oh yeah, what’s this guy’s name?” Rolando again
“I think it’s something like Landsing, or Landsdale, who knows…” Javi thinks for a bit,
“Anyways, this guy had this shit going on, called “Eye of God” where they’d fly over a guerilla band being chased by the infantry and tell them all sorts of details about them so they thought there was traitors among them, even though there wasn’t and then they’d go and execute 2 or 3 people they suspected of being the leak and they thought it was great cause that’s how many Huk guerillas the infantry would have killed if they had any chance of catching up. They would even paint these menacing eyes, like big brother looking in the direction of suspected insurgentes homes.”
“Man, that doesn’t sound too off the wall” Abel comes in
“Yeah, but check it out, there was this incident where they thought this area of the jungle was possessed, and the fuckers were afraid of something like the chupacabras, and so this guy has the Philippine army grab the last guy in a band of guerrillas and they punched two holes in his neck and drained all his blood and then put his ass back, so that the guerillas would move out of the area, and it fucking worked! I guess they even spread rumors through the locals that the chupacabras was in the vicinity, so it freaked them out.”
“Man, that is fucked up!”
“For reals…some fucked up shit.”