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Las Cucarachas

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Award-winning author Yongsoo Park presents a powerful coming-of-age story of a young boy on the edges of New York City.

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Excerpt from Las Cucarachas

Chapter 1

A chewed-up Nerf flies out of nowhere and smacks me in the head when me and Steven are about ten yards past the super. I turn around to see who threw it and there’s Fatty, smiling like some retard. It’s not even 9 and the bastard’s already got a thick red ring around his mouth from all the ramen he eats. The jerkoff must go through a box every three days.

“Yo, my mom told me everything,” he blurts out. “They broke into your apartment, right? It’s ‘cuz they think Korean people keep bags of cash in the house.”

I stare at his beady little eyes, wondering just how any kid could be so damn stupid. I mean, yeah our apartment got robbed and my Atari and all 42 games are gone, but why the hell’s he gotta remind me for? The kid’s just so damn stupid sometimes. I mean, everyone’s always going on and on about how Korean kids are super smart and born doing the times table, but what the hell happened to Fatty?

Take the kid’s name for instance. I guess Taek-Won ain’t as bad as some super retarded f.o.b. names like Man Yoo Suck or Oh Yoo Bum, but it still sounds like the beginning of “tae kwon do” or part of some corny rap like, “Microphone check, take one, take two, yo, let’s go.” Either way, the name’s pretty damn corny. So I don’t blame the kid for chucking it. I just don’t think Fatty’s much better. But he doesn’t seem to mind. He seems almost to like it.

Anyway, enough about the dumb fuck’s stupid name. I don’t appreciate getting whacked in the head, especially first thing in the morning. So I pick the ball up off the ground and fling it hard at his round bowling-ball head. For a kid who hardly weighs nothing, I got me a pretty good arm, so the ball’s a bullet. Not that I ever got it measured with radar or anything, but it’s fast, at least 95 miles per hour, if not 125. If the Mets ever got their act together, they woulda signed me up already. With me and Jesse Orosco, who’s also a lefty, we’d be invincible. Sure, we’d be even better with Tom Seaver, but the bozos who run the team traded him to the White Sox, so what the hell can you do?

The only thing is, Fatty ducks out the way like the chickenshit he is, so the ball hits the side of the super’s bananamobile instead. There’s no dent or scratch‹how could there be when the ball’s just a big fat sponge?‹but the super just has to make a big deal out of it anyway ‘cuz he ain’t got nothing better to do than pick his nose and scratch his ass when he’s not mopping the hallway. So he crawls out from under the hood real slow and stares at me like he’s got static. Not that I care. He can stare all day if he wants. I ain’t scared of the son of a bitch, so the fuck with him. If he starts with me, I’ll call immigration on his ass.

What’s the big fucking deal anyway? It ain’t like we keyed his car or snapped off the fucking antenna, which we oughtta do ‘cuz the jerkoff deserves it, or like the asshole’s car’s even worth anything. I know for a fact that the dickweed got it off some welfare auction out in Pennsylvania for twenty-five bucks, which, if you ask me, was a major rip-off. But that’s what you get for being Puerto Rican and having a birdbrain.

Still, I got manners and I don’t wanna start nothing, so I say, “Sorry, super. It was an accident.”

The super takes a puff off his twenty-five cent-cigar and says, “Forget it, boys. No harm. No foul. I was a kid once, too, you know. Here’s your ball back. Now run along and enjoy your summer.”

Yeah, right.

Maybe shit like that happens on Fantasy Island. But if Tattoo were on our block, we’d just kick his and Mr. Roarke’s ass like we do Hindu Tim’s.

In real life, the super waddles over to where the ball is, on account of how his one leg is shorter than the other, picks it up, then points to the sign on the wall with his cigar. I’ve lived in the Holland all my life. I know what the sign says: “NO LOITERING, NO LOUD MUSIC, NO BALL PLAYING.” And I know what it means: “The super’s a dick.”

Anyway, the douchebag then says, “How many times I gotta tell you fucking kids not to play in front of the building!”

“We weren’t playing. It was an accident,” I say.

But the jackass couldn’t care less and I might as well be speaking Chinese, which I don’t, by the way, ‘cuz I hate chinks more than I do spics.

The dumb fuck just tosses the ball inside his trunk, and slams it shut like all the other times.

I oughtta kick the scumbag’s ass and make the motherfucker cry like a little baby, but it’s Fatty’s ball, and he ain’t doing shit to get it back, so I sure as hell ain’t gonna do shit, neither.

So I just turn around and start walking up the block, keeping my eyes on the ground the whole time ‘cuz of all the dog shit everywhere.

Of course, now that the super’s not in our faces no more, good old Fatty, who just stood there the whole time like some scared little kid about to pee his pants, starts running his mouth like crazy about how he’s gonna kick the super’s ass. If I had a dime for every time Fatty said that bullshit, I’d be a goddamn millionaire by now.

Halfway up the block, Fatty turns to me and says, “Why’d you throw the ball like that for, bro? You knew the super was right there.”

Talk about gratitude. The son of a bitch actually makes it sound like the whole thing was my fault. So I say, “You knew he was there, too, Fatty. Why’d you throw the ball at me?”

“You owe me a ball, bro.”

“Fine, Fatty. I’ll get you a damn ball! Just stop fucking whining.”

“Yeah, right. With what money?”

Fucking Fatty’s always gotta get in the last word.

A couple of steps later, he says, “So did you call 5-0 or what?”

There he is again, yapping away about my apartment getting robbed. You figure the kid would take a hint from the first time and shut the fuck up already, but he’s got fucking rocks for brains. So instead of an answer, I whack a Mountain Dew can with my foot and send it flying under a parked car out to the middle of the street. It’s a good kick. If we were playing kick-the-can, it’d get everyone out of jail and make life hell for whoever’s it.

“Well, what happened, bro? Did you call 5-0 or what?”

“Yeah, we called ’em,” I finally say, ‘cuz I know there’s no shutting the bastard up.

“So what did they do?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?” Fatty makes his I’m-stupid-and-confused face, which is exactly the same as his I’m-hungry face. “I don’t get it. What d’you mean, nothing?”

“What d’you think I mean, Fatty? Nothing.”

“Didn’t they at least dust for fingerprints or take photos like they do in the movies?”

“No, Fatty. They didn’t do shit.”

“What about all the stuff you lost?”

“What about it?”

“Are they gonna try to get it back or what?”

“They ain’t gonna do shit.”

“What d’you mean? They gotta do something, don’t they?”

“Goddamn, Fatty. What the hell’s your problem? I told you already. They ain’t gonna do shit, all right. So stop bugging me about it.”

I guess he finally gets it ‘cuz he starts shaking his head real slow, then says, “That’s messed up, bro. You got dissed. You got dissed by 5-0.”

As much as I hate to admit it, the bastard’s right. Not that I ever had much faith in cops. I know all they ever do is eat donuts and go around hassling people for no reason just ‘cuz they got badges and guns and think they’re so fucking tough. I don’t know why cops are such fucking assholes. But the way I see it, you gotta be one ugly, useless dickhead of a kid to wanna grow up and be one.

Of course, even knowing all that, a part of me still expected them to do more than just write up some crummy police report and tell us to get better locks in case of next time. They might as well tell us to go fuck ourselves.

“Yo, we should go talk to Africa and Jin, bro. They were out here all day yesterday. Maybe they saw who stole your shit,” says Fatty.

I just nod. Maybe they did, and maybe they didn’t. All I know is, I ain’t gonna get my hopes up. I know better than to think that I can get my stuff back. Shit like that might happen in the movies, but I know it don’t happen in real life. So I ain’t about to drop everything and start looking for my shit like some dumb kid in some stupid detective story snooping around dark alleys and knocking on locked doors. Fuck Encyclopedia Brown and his corny ass.

Anyway, when we get to the corner, these two black guys from the car wash are standing there, holding their stomachs and cracking up like they just seen the funniest shit. The bigger guy, who’s got on Gazelles and is all cut up like he just came out of jail, sees us and points up at the sky.

We look up and see a pair of blue Pumas hanging off the power line. I don’t know why they think this is so damn funny. There’s gotta be at least a hundred pairs of sneakers hanging off power lines all over the place. So some kid threw them up there, big fucking deal.

But Fatty gets all serious anyway and says, in this way like he’s so damn proud of himself, “Yo, I’ll bet you a hundred dollars someone took those Pumas off some kid and threw them up there.”

“No shit, Sherlock. You figure that out all by yourself?”

Any kid except Fatty would know I was being sarcastic, but Fatty just grins and says, “You know I’m right, bro. You owe me a hundred bucks. I’ll take cash money. Only tens and twenties.”

I give him the middle finger instead and tell him to keep the change.

Then, just as we’re about to cut out of there, the same car wash guy points at my shirt and says, “Nice shirt, son!”

Fatty looks over at the guy, then at my shirt, which has a picture of some black guy with hair like Medusa’s and the dates 1945­1981.

“You even know who that is on your shirt, son?” says the car wash guy with this look on his face like he thinks it’s so fucking amusing that a little Chinese kid could have a shirt with a black guy on it.

So I look the guy right in his Gazelles and shout, “How the fuck do I know, motherfucker? Mind your own damn business and keep washing cars!”

Yeah, right!

Of course, Fatty starts snickering like crazy ‘cuz he knows my shirt’s some crappy hand-me-down that my mom got from her work. Anyway, it’s bad enough I gotta wear stuff like that all the time. I don’t need fucking Fatty laughing at me.

So I turn to the fat fuck and say, “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing,” he says, playing it off like he wasn’t just laughing at me a second ago.

I shove him hard in the chest anyway, and he stumbles back a couple of steps right into a pile of green-brown dog poop that’s so fresh it’s actually steaming.

“Fuck!” he says. “Why the hell’d you push me for, bro?”

“You know why.”

He gives me this look like he’d shoot me if he still had his B.B. gun. Not that I’m worried. Maybe some other kid might do something like that or even just take a swing at me, but Fatty’s super soft no matter how much shit he talks about kicking people’s asses. So I know I ain’t got a thing to worry about.

“You’re fucked up, bro. I just got these, too,” he says, then starts scraping his shelltops back and forth against the pavement like that’s somehow gonna get the shit out from in between the treads.

All of a sudden, Steven, who’s been following us the whole time but who’s so damn quiet you forget he’s even around, starts laughing out loud and blurts out, in his super girlish voice, “You’re retarded, Fatty!”

It’s the first thing the kid’s said the whole morning. And knowing him, it’ll probably be the only thing he says the whole day. I don’t know why the kid’s all weird like that, but he just is.

Anyway, Fatty’s face turns bright red in half a second. As much crap as he takes from me, there’s no way in hell he’s gonna let some puny little kid like Steven talk shit to him, at least not right to his face.

So he gets right up in the kid’s face and shouts, “Shut the hell up, you little freak!”

That’s about all it takes for Steven’s face to drop and for him to get all teary-eyed. I don’t know who to feel bad for. Fatty shouldn’t yell at the kid, but the kid shouldn’t get all sad and wussy just ‘cuz some fat bastard yelled at him. I mean, how the hell’s he ever gonna get through life if he gets like that every time some fatass yells at him?

Anyway, it don’t matter who’s right or wrong. I gotta look out for the kid ‘cuz he’s my brother whether I like it or not. So I turn to Fatty and say, “Leave the kid alone! He ain’t done nothing to you!”

Fatty looks right at me and says, “You’re messed up, bro. You and your brother.”

“It’s your own damn fault.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he says, then lifts his foot to check the bottom of his sneakers. Not that it makes a difference. He can scrape all morning and check a thousand times. He’s still gonna be trailing shit smell all day.

I guess the big black guy knows that, too, ‘cuz he says, “Don’t waste your time, kid. You ain’t never gonna get that shit off.”

Fatty looks up and stares at the guy for a few seconds. Then he opens his big mouth and says, “Fuck you, motherfucker.”

This time, it’s no joke, and the guy stares at Fatty like he can’t believe his ears. Neither can I. I mean, Fatty can be pretty damn stupid sometimes, but this is beyond stupid. What the hell’s he thinking mouthing off to some big black guy?

This huge vein on the side of the guy’s neck starts throbbing. Then the guy takes a step toward Fatty and says, “What the hell’d you say, you little punk?”



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