Kosher Pickles and Pigs Feet

Like a mom wrapping a tortilla around some hot meat for tacos

By Lil' Rudy G
Published on LatinoLA: June 13, 2003

Kosher Pickles and Pigs Feet

I step off the bus turn and say good bye to my business associates, the El Hoyo Soto shoe shine boys. We are a Xicano ragged crew of 10 year olds, with tattered pants, frayed shirts, ripped black shoes with stained black hands to match.

We had just finished another bus run up the notorious downtown Los Angeles bar scene. The Zimba room, the Main St., Cebies, La Cita Club, M?s club, Hard rock Bar, sometimes even the Latin Playboy on Whittier Blvd. Back home on the East Side. These were always the most profitable spots, bars & dance halls, the drunks gave us great tips and never really paid much attention to how well the shine looked. Plus you?d see some great fights. The bus stops were fun, especially when you?re only finished with half a shoe and the client?s bus arrives, and you get paid anyway. We had some going games of polishing the drunk?s socks, shining only one shoe, untying shoe strings, or ?forgetting? to give back the change.

Working the streets you sometimes had to fight for your corner, fight for your shoeshine box, or kick some ass just to keep from getting ripped off by another punk loco or wino. Our mortal enemies were the PeeWee Winos, all younger brothers to a vicious gang El hoyo Mara, but we held our own.

Yea, we got hustled by the perverted souls trying to score some booty from a 10-year-old street kid. You piece of shit can?t you see I?m trying to make a living here, hurling my shoeshine brush at the fools exposed weasel.?Hey boy, let me suck it!?

Fuck off, puto!

Often enough if it was a slow day we would opt to walk home about three miles from downtown collecting soda bottles, free handouts of ?chicharones" pork rinds from men at bakery back doors. Taking swigs of half empty beer bottles at factory parking lots, hopping fences and stealing from fruit trees as we got closer to home. The harvest was sometimes sweeter walking home than busting ass over someone's shoes, but each day was a journey. Once in the neighborhood, we?d cash in our bottles for a 16 oz. soda and candy bars.

I was having a good day so I decided to celebrate and jumped off the bus at an early stop, the rest of my crew continued just wanting to go home. Walking down Brooklyn Ave. it was a carousel of colors, smells, and odd people and places. I passed through the crowd, stopping at a Jewish deli named Canter's on Soto St.

The place was pristine and the meats and breads were perfectly lined up and stacked, with sawdust on the floor and bearded men in white smocks. I stared through the glass case window and decided to order a hot potato knish, cream soda, and a large kosher pickle. The ones that snapped when you bite em?.
It was always the same with the kosher pickles, in the same glass jar as the ?pickled pigs feet? at my neighborhood grocery store. Without a word the man with curly side burns, beard and a black hat would eyeball me once he wrapped the metal thongs around a fat pickle. If I looked disappointed he?d plunge deeper, fishing, searching for a bigger catch till I cracked a smile and only then would he slap it onto a piece of wax paper almost like my mom wrapping a tortilla around some hot meat for tacos. Only this was kosher style!

Behind the counter there was a young Xicano kid working part time to stack boxes, sweep up or carry out the trash. As our eyes meet we recognize each other, but nothing is said. Just one box boy to another. You see, I had a part time gig on the weekends at Romero's market less than a mile away, only instead of tossing knish I was plucking chorizo from the cooler and stacking it into the glass case for the butcher. I wondered if he gave the ladies credit like Se?or Romero did for my mom and many others.

Jewish moms were shouting orders for kosher deli meats and unfamiliar stuff for family dinners, grabbing these treasures, then pouring out the front door to the street. I?m a street kid with no dad but a hard-working factory girl mom doing her time at the sweatshops off 7th Street downtown. So no family sit down dinners here, just pickle juice dripping off my hands into the gutter as I feast seated at my dinner table on a curb.

Rising I feel like I?m in a small black and white movie, the Bowery Boys angels with dirty faces, the ? little Rascals come to East LA.? I?m clutching my shoe shine box filled with quarters and dimes mixed at the bottom with black and brown polish, old rags and a brush. As I make my way through the busy street, I cross to do some window shopping at a store that catches my eye. Its Zha Zhas second hand store, the owner is some old deranged gypsy lady that sits mixed in with piles of old clothes and rags like some demented lost mannequin thats seen better days.

She only speaks when spoken to, but with this heavy undecipherable accent. I think once when asked, she said something about being a Polish or German Jew or a gypsy from Europe. I see an old purple black scarf for my mom, Zha Zha wants 50 cents but settles for 25 cents after staring me down for a while. I reach into my dirty shoeshine box and pull out a quarter handing it to her gently with my black-stained hands. She reaches out to take the money as I notice some numbers tattooed on her forearm. What?s that for, I ask? She looks wounded, mumbles something in a language I?d never heard so I make little of it. She puts the quarter in a cigar box on her small table and smiles for a moment, then stares off, slipping away into her living dream.

Just then a beautiful chopped customized lowered 40?s Chevy ?gangster? looking car full of Xicano teens slow down and stop in front as a police car with alarms blaring pulls in tight right behind. The cops demand everyone out of the car, commanding them to lie on the dirty sidewalk screaming something about suspicion of being suspicious.

As I look closer at one of the teens I notice my cousin Pelon from Happy Valley.

Before I can speak, from the floor with a worried look he gives a wink, and nods his head gesturing me to move on. He would later pull two years for violation of probation on this bust, he was just 16.

I just wander away stuffing the old scarf into my pocket, leaving a trail of pickle juice and knish crumbs behind.

About Lil' Rudy G:
lil rudy g aka: Rudy Gandara. Gloria's Kid! lilrudyg@earthlink.net

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