As part of Concrete, the Outsideleft Short Story Competition (submit your entry here), we are unearthing short story offerings from Outsideleft contributors and friends... Today, Ancient Champion's Breakfast in America, written in Southern California in 1995 before the Champ was ancient, and languishing since.
BREAKFAST IN AMERICA (1995)
El Cocotero is on a charmless stretch of gas stations, tire fitters, a brake shop with a 1% check cashing facility - and a 'family' pool hall. On this patch of Mission Blvd, the crack dealers deal so openly, someone should rent them a store to tidy up the street.
“They do the best breakfasts at Cocotero’s,” Randy’d said.
"Sit in the booth by the window with the bullet hole. It's not like a bullet is gonna go through the same hole twice..."
Classy place, classy guy.
Pomona is some 30 miles east of East Los Angeles, but could be a 3000 mile drive for its backwater qualities. Nestling at the foot of the San Gabriel mountains, it's a natural trap for L.A 's smog and the detritus blown east from the Pacific. The closer Pomona gets, the larger and more decrepit the gas guzzlers become. Tom Waits once said that Pomona is the kind of place where when someone gets shot on a Saturday night, it’s reported as death by natural causes.
El Cocotero's interior is a combination of flaky nicotine creme stucco and brown naugahyde; World Cup '94 posters and neon beer signs. ESPN Deportes flares overhead on the big screen, TV sound blazing in a postmodern mashup mixed with the mariachi music blaring from the jukebox. The Dodgers have gone down again. Up pops another Vicente Fernández tune. Still the king. A bowl of blue corn chips reaches the naugahyde booth by the bullet blown-out window almost as soon as I do.
"Only Mexicans eat here," Randy tells me later. "And when gringo's come in, they always sit in the same place."
I'd barely had an opportunity to frown at El Cocotero's breakfast menu before Randy's ageing, shit brown Eldorado pulls into the parking lot. He wasn’t lying when he called it a Crapillac. Randy is a mountain of a man. Way over six feet tall and weighing maybe 260lbs. A bodybuilder gone to seed. His hair is long, thick, dark and bedraggled, way down his back. His face is covered by what was probably once just a beard. As he pumps me with a regulation steroid grip, I notice the soft blue shade of his eyes. Although he might not be everybody's instant your beef my teeth kinda guy but he's got an indefinable something for sure.
Randy mused only momentarily over the menu. Machacas con Huevos, the perfect cure for his hangover. He orders for us both in Spanish, idly putting a finger through a bullet hole.
I make conversation with a detail about a shooting in a West Pico diner, the drama heightened by having lived it. I was with my friend Martha, back to the door. The shouting outside didn’t register, we were planning the number of swap meets we could make the next day. Suddenly. A heavy calibre boom exploded the plate window. Some kids ran in to hide. Martha dragged me under the table. I was so lifeless she thought I’d been shot. I was so petrified, I’d fainted.
Randy listens impassively, that is his way, never so much as impressed, says he was shot in the head last year. “Just down Mission.” He gestures out into the street. “I was lucky.”
The bullet, “Shroomed off the frame of the quarterlight.” He’d seen a guy staring at him at the 76 gas station and hadn’t thought anything of it. Then barely a block down the street, Blam.
Grazed, Dazed and Amazed. He drove the ten blocks to his house at a hundred miles an hour, then sat in his hot tub, with his 9mm, picking pieces of lead from his head. Took a couple of tequila shots then drove himself to the ER.
“That 9mm's a Korean war issue, blow a hole clean through a wall.” He mentions.
Breakfast in America is a beautiful thing, in a beautiful land scarred by gunfire. It's the American common denominator. The great leveller. It unites us all, and one day probably will.
One thing though. Randy was right about the breakfast.
Breakfast In America is an edited version of a previously unpublished Ancient Champion story from before the Champion was Ancient, in 1995
Concrete - Outsideleft's free to enter short story competition information here