Authors: Sandra Cisneros
No, he didn’t. He died from cancer. Too many cigarettes, I guess
Are we talking about the same Marlboro Man?
He and Romelia lived on this fabulous piece of real estate in the hill country, outside Fredericksburg. Beautiful house on a bluff, next to some cattle ranches. You’d think you were miles from civilization, deer and wild turkey and roadrunners and hawks and all that, but it was only a ten-minute drive to town. They had a big Fourth of July party there once and invited everybody who was anybody. Willie Nelson, Esteban Jordán, Augie Meyers, all that crowd
Well, all I know is he was called Durango. And he owned a ranch out in the hill country that once belonged to Lady Bird Johnson. And he and some friends of the Texas Tornadoes lost a lot of money investing in some recording studio that was supposed to have thirty-six tracks instead of the usual sixteen, or whatever. And he gave Romelia hell, always chasing any young
that wore a skirt and …
But Dan Rather said he was the
The original, huh?… Well, maybe the one I’m talking about who lived with Romelia wasn’t the
Marlboro Man…. But he
He had this habit of taking off all his clothes in public. I ran into them once at the Liberty, and he was dressed up in this luscious suit. Very
, know what I mean?
. Well, I waved to Romelia, meaning to go over to the bar later and say hi. But by the time I got to my pecan pie, he was already marching out the door wearing nothing but a cocktail napkin. I swear, he was
GOD! Don’t kill me. I used to dream he’d be the father of my children.
Well, yeah. That is if we’re talking about the same Marlboro Man. There’ve been lots of Marlboro Men. Just like there’ve been lots of Lassies, and lots of Shamu the Whale, and lots of Ralph the Swimming Pig. Well, what did you think, girlfriend?
Did he have a mustache?
And did he play bit parts in Clint Eastwood westerns?
I think so. At least he played in some Wells Fargo things that I know of
And was he originally from northern California, used to have a little brother who was borderline mentally retarded, did some porno flicks before Marlboro discovered him?
She likes to say she’s “Spanish,” but she’s from Laredo like the rest of us—or “Lardo,” as we call it. Her name is Berriozábal. Carmen. Worked as a secretary for a San Antonio law firm.
. I mean big. Men couldn’t take their eyes off them. She couldn’t help it, really. Anytime they talked to her they never looked her in the eye. It was kind of sad.
She kept this corporal at Fort Sam Houston. Young. A looker. José Arrambide. He had a high school honey back home who sold nachos at the mall, still waiting for him to come back to Harlingen, marry her, and buy that three-piece bedroom set on layaway. Dream on, right?
Well, this José wasn’t Carmen’s LUH-uv of her life. Just her San Antonio “thang,” so to speak. But you know how men are. Unless you’re washing their feet and drying them with your hair, they just can’t take it. I mean it. And Carmen was a take-it-or-leave-it type of woman. If you don’t like it, there’s the door. Like that. She was something.
Not smart. I mean, she didn’t know enough to get her teeth
cleaned every year, or to buy herself a duplex. But the corporal was hooked. Her genuine guaranteed love slave. I don’t know why, but when you treat men bad, they love it.
Yeah, sure, he was her sometime sweetheart, but what’s that to a woman who’s twenty and got the world by the eggs. First chance, she took up with a famous Texas senator who was paving his way to the big house. Set her up in a fancy condo in north Austin. Camilo Escamilla. You maybe might’ve heard of him.
When José found out, it was a big
, as they say. Tried to kill her. Tried to kill himself. But this Camilo kept it out of the papers. He was that important. And besides, he had a wife and kids who posed with him every year for the calendar he gave away at Christmas. He wasn’t about to throw his career out the window for no
According to who you talk to, you hear different. José’s friends say he left his initials across those famous
with a knife, but that sure sounds like talk, don’t it?
heard he went AWOL. Became a bullfighter in Matamoros, just so he could die like a man. Somebody else said
the one who wants to die.
Don’t you believe it. She ran off with King Kong Cárdenas, a professional wrestler from Crystal City and a sweetie. I know her cousin Lerma, and we saw her just last week at the Floore Country Store in Helotes. Hell, she bought us a beer, two-stepped and twirled away to “Hey Baby Qué Pasó.”
Gustavo Galindo, Ernie Sepúlveda, Jessie Robles, Jr., Ronnie DeHoyos, Christine Zamora …
When I was a kid and my ma added the rice to the hot oil, you know how it sizzles and spits, it sounds kind of like applause, right? Well, I’d always bow and say
Gracias, mi querido público
, thank you, and blow kisses to an imaginary crowd. I still do, kind of as a joke. When I make Spanish rice or something and add it to the oil. It roars, and I bow, just a little so no one would guess, but I bow, and I’m still blowing kisses, only inside.
Mary Alice Luján, Santiago Sanabria, Timoteo Herrera …
But I’m not Rudy when I perform. I mean, I’m not Rudy Cantú from Falfurrias anymore. I’m Tristán. Every Thursday night at the Travisty. Behind the Alamo, you can’t miss it. One-man show, girl. Flamenco, salsa, tango, fandango, merengue, cumbia, cha-cha-chá. Don’t forget. The Travisty. Remember the Alamo.
Lionel Ontiveros, Darlene Limón, Alex Vigil …
There are other performers, the mambo queens—don’t get me wrong, it’s not that they’re not good at what they do. But they’re not class acts. Daniela Romo impersonators. Lucha Villa look-alikes. Carmen Mirandas. Fruit department, if you ask me. But Tristán is very—how do I put it?—elegant. I mean, when he walks down the street, he turns heads like this. Passionate and stormy. And arrogant. Yes, arrogant a little. Sweetheart, in this business you have to be.
Blás G. Cortinas, Armando Salazar, Freddie Mendoza …
Tristán holds himself like a matador. His clothes magnificent. Absolutely perfect, like a second skin. The crowd throbbing—Tris-TAN, Tris-TAN, Tris-TAN!!! Tristán smiles, the room shivers. He raises his arms, the wings of a hawk. Spotlight clean as the moon of Andalucía. Audience breathless as water. And then …
The heels like shotguns. A dance till death. I will love you
hasta la muerte, mi vida
. Do you hear? Until death.
Brenda Núñez, Jacinto Tovar, Henry Bautista, Nancy Rose Luna …
Because every Thursday night Tristán dances with La Calaca Flaca. Tristán takes the fag hag by the throat and throttles her senseless. Tristán’s not afraid of La Flaquita, Thin Death.
Arturo Domínguez, Porfiria Escalante, Gregory Gallegos Durán, Ralph G. Soliz …
Tristán leads Death across the floor.
¿Verdad que me quieres, mi cariñito, verdad que sí? Hasta la muerte
. I’ll show you how to ache.
Paul Villareal Saucedo, Monica Riojas, Baltazar M. Lopez …
Say it. Say you want me. You want me.
. Look at me. I said
take your eyes from mine, Death. Yesssss. My treasure. My precious.
Mi pedacito de alma desnuda
. You want me so bad it hurts. A tug-of-war, a tease and stroke. Smoke in the mouth.
Hasta la muerte
Dorotea Villalobos, Jorge H. Hull, Aurora Anguiano Román, Amado Tijerina, Bobby Mendiola …
Tristán’s family? They love him no matter what. His ma proud of his fame—That’s my
. His sisters jealous because he’s the pretty one. But they adore him, and he gives them tips on their makeup.
At first his father said What’s this? But then when the newspaper articles started pouring in, well, what could he do but send photocopies to the relatives in Mexico, right? And Tristán sends them all free backstage passes. They drive all the way from the Valley for the opening of the show. Even the snooty relatives from Monterrey. It’s unbelievable. Last time he invited his family they took the whole damn third floor of La Mansión del Rio. I’m not kidding.
He’s the greatest live act in San Anto. Doesn’t put up with bull. No way. Either loves you or hates you. Ferocious, I’m telling you.
hot-hot-hot or cold as a witch’s tough
. Isn’t tight with nobody but family and friends. Doesn’t need to be. Go on, say it. I want you to. I’ll school you. I’ll show you how it’s done.
See this ring? A gift from an art admirer and dance aficionado. Sent $500 worth of red roses the night of his opening. You should’ve seen the dressing room. Roses, roses, roses. Honey! Then he sent the ring, little diamonds set in the shape of Texas. Just because
he was fond of art. That’s how it is. Say it.
. Say you want me. You want me.
The bitch and Tristán are like this. La Flaca crazy about him. Lots of people love Tristán like that. Because Tristán dares to be different. To stand out in a crowd. To have style and grace. And
. Tristán has that kind of appeal.
He’s not scared of the low-rider types who come up at the Esquire Bar, that beer-stinking, piss-soaked hole, jukebox screaming Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry.”
You a fag? Gives them a look like the edge of a razor across lip.
Dresses all in white in the summer, all in black in the winter. No in-between except for the show. That’s how he is. Tristán. But he’s never going to be anything but honest. Carry his heart in his hand. You know it.
And when he loves, gives himself body and soul. None of this fooling around. A love so complete you have to be ready for it. Courageous. Put on your seat belt, sweets. A ride to the finish. So bad it aches.
A dance until death. Every Thursday night when he glides with La Flaca. Wraps his arms around her. La Muertita with her shit-eating, bless-her-heart grin. Doesn’t faze him. La Death with her dress up the crack of her ass. The girl’s pathetic.
What a pair! The two like Ginger and Fred tangoing across the floor. Two angels, heavenly bodies floating cheek to cheek. Or
. Ay, girl, I’m telling you.
. With those maracas and the cha-cha-chá of those bones-bones-bones, she’s a natural.
¿Verdad que me quieres, mi cariñito? ¿Verdad que sí?
Tristán? Never feels better than on Thursday nights when he’s working her. When he’s living those moments, the audience breathing, sighing out there, roaring when the curtains go up and the lights and music begin. That’s when Tristán’s life starts. Without ulcers or gas stations or hospital bills or bloody sheets or pubic hairs
in the sink. Lovers in your arms pulling farther and farther away from you. Dried husks, hulls, coffee cups. Letters home sent back unopened.
Tristán’s got nothing to do with the ugly, the ordinary. With screen doors with broken screens or peeling paint or raw hallways. The dirty backyards, the muddy spittle in the toilet you don’t want to remember. Sweating, pressing himself against you, pink pink peepee blind and seamless as an eye, pink as a baby rat, your hand small and rubbing it, yes, like this, like so, and your skull being crushed by that sour smell and the taste like tears inside your sore mouth.
No. Tristán doesn’t have memories like that. Only
amor del corazón
, that you can’t buy, right? That is never used to hurt anybody. Never ashamed. Love like a body that wants to give and give of itself, that wants to create a universe where nothing is dirty, no one is hurting, no one sick, that’s what Tristán thinks of when he dances.