Awake at 2 AM, listening to whoops in the callejones, the alleys that cross in front of our house. Someone had taken one of the usual inhalants and was acting out in the usual way, roaring at the neighbors, as if they were responsible for all his pains. I watched on the camera monitor for a while. Unfortunately, by mistake, we had hit the wrong buttons somewhere along the line, and the picture keeps changing from camera 1 to camera 2 to 3 to 4, so you can’t studying the situation or track someone’s movement. Delinquent behavior was occurring, but I could only catch snatches of it.
Only that morning, I had reprimanded young M, whom no one washes, for not being at the art workshop being offered at S’s tienda–store–two blocks up the stairs. I yelled up at his sister, whose head I could see above the half-wall on their roof.
“Where’s M?” I called up. “He not at the workshop.”
She looked down with a kind of shrug-of-the-shoulders expression.
“Where’s M?” I asked again, not letting myself be put off.
M appeared at an open window one story lower. His face was as blank as his sister’s.
“Why aren’t you at the workshop?” I ask. His eyes shifted around, as he looked for an answer. Everything about his face told me that, for whatever reason, he wasn’t going.
“It’s just that I have to hold tools for someone,” he said.
“No, you don’t,” I replied. “A lot of people have worked really hard to set this up for you. Why aren’t you going?”
He disappeared, then appeared around the corner, on my level, in the callejón.
M is a practiced con-artist, best at trying to get money out of you with the most outlandish stories of why he has to have it. D has told him there will be no more money until she has talked with his teacher and his parent figures (the father is not interested in him) present a financial report of money-in and money-out. They seem to have a record of complicity in M’s stories and reasons. The children come saying there is no food to eat. It is hard to say no. We have given food, but we no longer give money.
He was beginning up the steps with me. He looked back, as if he was worried about pressure coming from somewhere else: his mother. I suspected she had told him he didn’t have to go.
“You have a commitment,” I told him, as we climbed toward S’s tienda and the workshop. I used the word commitment because M always seems to be sliding in the other direction—no commitment toward anyone including himself and any kind of future.
“You know, I’m disappointed in you, M. A lot of people are coming together to offer you something worthwhile—the history of Mexican art—and you can’t be bothered to get your ass off your chair and up the hill.”
He brought up his duty to hand someone tools. I told him he didn’t have that duty. He had a duty to attend what M and others had worked hard to organize.
“Do you want to become a pandillero–a thug?” I asked him. I knew there was a constant suck on him in that direction.
He looked at me, shocked that I could think such a thing. I thought of my own father’s gruff guidance as I marched M toward something worthwhile. Are you going to do the right thing, or not?
We entered S’s tienda. S was at the front, selling tacos with fresh goat meat. I had met the animal earlier. Various parts of him had been stewing since the night before. M was delaying. He said he had to throw his plastic cup away. I took it out of his hand. I would throw it a way. S was watching me. I rolled my eyes. S gave a little nod. He knew the story. M had to buy a candy bar. A, S’s wife, sold it to him. He opened it and casually took a bite. In that moment, he was a tough guy that had important things to do in his life—besides attending workshops.
I mounted the stairs behind him. I got him a chair and planted him across from A, the young volunteer teacher—a theater major from the university, coming from the young citizen’s group called 473, which is our area code in Mexico. I drew up a chair and sat behind M—like a sprawled goatherd dog keeping tabs on one of his goats—a goat boy that possibly still had a future if he felt that anybody at all gave a damn about him.
Between 1 and 2 AM, the local losers—D disapproves of dehumanizing terms—had a rock fight with another gang a few houses down from us, broke the streetlight in front of our house, smashed open the steel door to the vacant lot and knocked out one of the adjoining metal panels, and terrified the neighborhood with their bellowing. Various young women fluttered around one of them (I caught glimpses of this on the always changing cameras), trying to return him to the privada–the side alley–before the police arrived in their knee guards, plastic shields, and metal clubs. Apparently, each neighbor thought the other would call the police—and no one did. The police did not arrive, and the boys-without-futures had one more spell of violence and chaos.