East L.A. College Vincent Price Art Museum
Price’s widow sent his big art collection out of the 20th century
angular gleaming super-modern steel gray cube, steel and glass
Karen Rapp museum director says stuff, hands the mic to one voluble guy
Victoria Price daughter of Vincent Price has a haircut like Patricia Zarate
maybe this is the Homegirl Cafe of art, the bigshots speak
somebody sings a ballad about Carlos Almaraz adroit rhyming Almaraz with ademas
back of the crowd pressed to the hors d’oeuvres tables I’m passing her a glass of red wine, Vietnamese chicken spring rolls, apple strudel, kalamata olives
she is saying, “the food here is good”
we followed Reina Prado and Tisa Bryant here
they got swallowed by the crowd
white women members of the board congratulate each other like big fluffy peonies
oh I know the woman going by with a long face like an Indian pony
the lawyer whose pieces are probably part of the exhibit shakes my hand, going by—“Hello”—”How are you”—
students working at the museum are excited, finally we can enter the gallery
Is that Judithe Hernandez?
I should know, I have been introduced to some of these people repeatedly
I know their faces and their looks
Ron Baca in his salt and pepper goatee, he was my teaching assistant 25 years ago talks to me about poetry, he tells people how I gave him my car keys and told him to fetch stuff
“I should’ve took off with his car—but then I started talking to him about poetry, and he said, you should teach my classes, everything was all right after that”—
I say, I heard you retired already, what the hell?
He tells me he’s ten years older than me though we look the same age
What the hell, I say
He laughs, I wasn’t going to wait till I was 80
The Carlos Almaraz pictures are great, eh?
Ron asks, what’s the story about that painting of the Bunny Boy?
Abel Salas tells him rabbits are tricksters, they represent creativity, appetites, desires
Almaraz died of AIDS in ’89, Ron
Ron says, wow, there’s a story behind every picture
I ask Abel if Alejandro Murguia is reading at Mariachi Plaza hotel tomorrow
he says Murguia taped something, but Francisco Alarcon will be there
they’ll all read poetry at 5 PM in the cupola high atop the new renovated hotel full of sleepy mariachis
Rosalio Munoz, first Chicano student body president of UCLA in 1968, leader of the 1970 Chicano Moratorium takes a close look at the pictures—portly in his guayabera and a fixture of the CPUSA for forty years, he takes a serious look—
one-time outsider in the Democratic Party Gloria Molina (she and Rosalio view the paintings and appear to take no notice of one another), I recall Gloria forty years ago slim, dark and cute atop a car in the Little Tokyo Nisei Week Parade
In 1996 I bumped into her shopping in Pavilion’s supermarket and told her I thought her election victory to city council or county board of supervisors was an important victory; I don’t know what she’s been doing these decades in the California Democratic Party
the last thing the papers had to say about her was something about misappropriation of funds to remodel her house
she’s still county supervisor opening the meetings and handing out plaques to citizenry
Barbara Carrasco talks to “Magu’s son” who I am told is “Magu’s son” as we shake hands, I don’t get a chance to say hello to Barbara (her picture from the old days before marriage, kids, cancer, everything, is in one of the glass cases, standing with Carlos Almaraz and Los Four), as the head of UCLA’s Chicano studies department goes by with her wife, they kiss happily in front of paintings they like
—while all these people go by I’m yakking with Gloria Alvarez and Jose Lozano about Jose’s hilarious sad crowd pictures from lost Chicano lounges at the far corners of the world as Suzana Guzman goes by, looking exactly like one of the half-anonymous half-familiar faces in Jose’s pictures—she started off wanting to be a rocker but ended up as an opera singer, a different kind of diva—we’re all standing, looking, talking, staring out in front of all the Carlos Almaraz pictures just like the faces in Jose Lozano’s pictures—
oh, that’s where Jose got those faces from, they’re our faces—

a couple spruced and spiffy academics lean their heads in conspiratorially to ask me favors, “if you don’t have time for it don’t worry”—
amidst all these suits and party dresses I’m wearing shorts and my torn Strand Bookstore T-shirt that Tom gave me, talking to Luisa, Sylvia’s sister
she introduces us to Catherine Murphy who has just finished making a documentary about women in the literacy campaign in the Cuban revolution and the big change it made in their lives
while I was talking to Catherine about her movie Luisa was saying Carlos Almaraz went to Cuba with her and Sylvia on the Venceremos Brigade (there’s sketchbooks with sketches of Fidel in a glass case in another room), Luisa had some stories about Almaraz from those days but I always miss out on the good chisme when I’m talking—
and Sylvia is no longer a congresswoman’s chief of staff Luisa says, she’s back in L.A. living a couple blocks away
by the time we tell Linda Arreola about seeing her 88 year old dad sleeping in a chair in the YMCA the girls who run the gallery are flicking the lights on and off, they’re kicking us out
I’m glad when we’re in the elevator and out of the building, into the humid September night on Cesar Chavez where we parked, we’ll go out to get Szechuan—I feel like I talked to hundreds in a crowd of people and some of them might’ve been ghosts, I saw so many people I used to know but I don’t know the actual truths about their lives, not then, not now—my whole life flashing before me in squiggly Carlos Almaraz colors

 
—for Jose Lozano

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