Take the Money and Run—1968
Bop. Bob-bop. Bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop!
Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice” blasted from the stereo in the Cordovas’ front room, Rafa on the sofa, hunched over a milk crate, eyes closed, palms slapping against the wood, senseless to everything but the rhythm coming through the speakers, his entire being chasing beats that were just out of reach.
Rafa had first heard that rhythm just after school let out in June, when Nelson, the Youth Center supervisor, dragged Rafa and his buddies on the Muni halfway across San Francisco to hear a free summer concert, saying, “Listen up, this is your city, Golden Gate Park don’t just belong to the rich folks.” Rafa had hoped for Al Green or maybe Smokey, but it was the Santana Blues Band, a local group nobody had ever heard of. And to make things worse, the park had been teeming with scruffy white kids writhing to such a cacophony of kazoos that his ears ached. In the tumult, Rafa lost track of the group. Then some dude in Jesus sandals offered him a joint, whispering, “Dig, little brother,” as if it were an ordinary stick of gum. When Rafa backed away, unsure how to react, the guy’s girlfriend, naked under a thin cotton shift, giggled. In his pressed black Bens and buttoned-to-the-collar Pendleton, he felt like he’d stumbled into a foreign country.
Rafa had been ready to escape back to the Mission district, when a seemingly effortless bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop pierced the air and silenced the kazoos. The concert was starting. Bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop! On the stage: a bare-chested, goateed, mahogany-skinned man with a massive Afro, wearing the craziest striped purple pants, striking a battery of barreled drums with rigid paddle-like hands: Bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop! Drawn by the rhythm, Rafa pushed through the audience to the foot of the stage. Unflinching slaps, skin against skin. More instruments joined in, but all he heard was bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop! The drumbeats flowed into Rafa, flooding him with unexpected joy, as if a flock of birds inside his chest had woken up, were slowly loosening their wings and taking flight, bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop!
Now, two months later in his living room on Shotwell Street, Rafa pounded on the milk crate to the Santana LP, sweating and straining to reproduce that elusive, driving rhythm that ran ahead of his aching fingers . . . Bop. Bop-bop.
His knuckles swelled. Blood seeped from beneath his fingernails. He pounded on the wooden box until his mother chased him outdoors saying she couldn’t hear herself think.
As soon as he turned the corner onto Sixteenth Street on his way to the Youth Center, Rafa felt an electric charge in the air. Following the hum, he thrust himself through a clump of wide-eyed spectators at a metal barricade—mamas with strollers, factory workers on break, kids like himself on summer vacation. Just beyond the barrier were dozens of strangers buzzing around trailers and power generators, an off-limits mysterious city that had somehow sprouted up overnight.
Rafa tapped a security guard with smudged eyeglasses on the shoulder. “What’s up with all this?”
“Visitors from another planet, sonny,” the old man said with a wink.
His supervisor at the Youth Center knew all about it.
“It’s a movie set,” Nelson explained, waving a mimeographed flyer as proof. “They’re looking to hire young men who can play a decent game of pool, turn you all into Hollywood stars.”
Rafa and his buddies were sprawled across mismatched furniture in the rec room, as Nelson paced the room in his ponytail and jeans, his bright eyes shining with enthusiasm.
“Hollywood?” Rafa said skeptically. The boys looked up to Nelson, a college-educated homie who’d grown up on Nineteenth Street across from Nickel’s Pool, and no doubt Nelson was smart, but Rafa had yet to see a movie star with dark skin and jet-black hair, a gap in his front teeth like his own. He surveyed the rec room, assessing his friends’ suitability for stardom.
Junie, who was fourteen and lived next door to the Cordovas, had bricks for biceps, but like his father, Tony Baloney—a meat packer who sold cold cuts on the side—Junie had bad skin and would never top five-feet-two. Even if Junie’s older sister, Tomasita, was finer than wine in Rafa’s considered opinion, Junie himself was not.
And Larry, who like Rafa was fifteen, used to be shy until Joe Bataan’s “Ordinary Guy” hit big. Now, whenever the song played on the radio, he’d yell, “That’s my song!” and warble into a make-believe mike, “I’m an Afro-Filiiii-pino-average-sorta-guy!” Nope. Maybe one day an actor who looked like Larry would end up kissing the girl instead of killing her, but Rafa wasn’t going to bet on it.
Probably six-foot-one Skip, sixteen in September, with his deep voice and the easygoing manner of a gym teacher, was the closest they had to actor material, except for the fact that he was letting his nappy hair grow out. If Hollywood had a part for someone who looked like Huey P. Newton’s younger brother, Rafa was positive it wouldn’t be the starring role.
Na-ah, Rafa decided. Nobody in that room, including the half-Chinese half-Puerto Rican Nelson with his hard-to-figure-out features, was destined for Hollywood.
“Is it a Hercules movie?” Junie asked in his squeaky voice. “’Cause if it is, I’m your man.”
“The movie’s called Take the Money and Run,” Nelson said, “a comedy by a guy named Woody Allen.”
“Woody?” Rafa snickered. “Who names their kid Woody?”
“Woody!” Larry snorted, cola spurting from his nose. “Dang!”
After the knee-slaps died down, Nelson said, “Okay, guys. Just so you know, they’re paying fifteen dollars a day for five days of work.”
Rafa fell silent as he made quick calculations in his head. What Skip would do with seventy-five dollars, he had no idea, but Larry would probably blow it on more LPs and Junie would buy the set of weights he’d been yapping about. As for Rafa, he would haul ass down to Mission Street and make a down payment on the tight set of congas in the window of Rolando’s Pawnshop, drums he’d been aching for since that day he heard Santana in Golden Gate Park.
“The drums have some serious history, man,” Rolando, the shop owner, had said proudly when Rafa got up the nerve to go inside the pawnshop to ask about them. “The guy who left them played with Machito at the Palladium in New York, who in turn inherited them from Arsenio Rodriguez’s congüero. Go on. You won’t hurt them.”
Rafa had scrutinized the construction of each drum, caressed the band of gleaming silver that anchored the drumhead, examined the six bat-like wings that bolted the band to the wood.
“Handcrafted in Cuba,” Rolando said. He had a big stomach under his white guayabera, skin like a prune, and a gentle smile. “I myself was born in Havana. I’m asking a hundred for the pair.”
A hundred. A hundred just about ripped Rafa’s heart. One hundred was twice what his parents paid in monthly rent. Even if he got a paper route again, it would take forever to earn a hundred dollars. His face must have shown his dismay because Rolando added, “You’re welcome to come by and play them, anytime.”
In the last two months, Rolando had shown Rafa how to tune the congas with a wrench, how to sit properly on a stool, grip a drum with his knees so that it scarcely touched the floor, how to shape his hands to produce open, muffled, bass and slap tones. He taught Rafa the clave rhythm. “There’s many rhythms: Guaguancó. Changuí. Yambú,” Rolando said. “Those come later. In Afro-Cuban music, you start with clave and you end with clave.”
Rafa ran his palm across the sweat-stained drumhead, worn smooth by drummers who had come before him. Feeling their presence, he lifted his hands and began. Bop. Bop-bop. Bop-bop. Deep down he knew he was next in line.
“Fifteen dollars a day for five days,” Nelson repeated. He paused, catching each boy’s eyes before continuing. “Easy work, if you’re up for it.”
Skip spoke first. “They came to the right place,” he drawled, coolly smacking Nelson’s palm, and setting off a chain reaction of low-fives among the boys. Rafa beat the back of the chair he was straddling, imagining for an instant that he was Mike Carabello of the Santana Blues Band, his head rolling back to face the sky, the spirit of the drums surging through his muscular arms—bop- bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop!
Monday morning, Rafa, Larry, Skip, and Junie—showered, hair combed, leather shoes glossy, soaked in English Leather—reported to a trailer at Sixteenth Street, where a dorky guy in khaki shorts had them fill out paperwork and disappeared, leaving the boys waiting anxiously in folding chairs. The trailer was bare except for a table set with a coffee urn and a pastry box.
“Think those are for us?” Larry asked. He was practically salivating at the sight of the pink box.
“Act proper, now,” Skip said, kicking Larry’s leg.
“Not like you from the streets, boy,” Rafa said, grinning. His friends watched bug-eyed as he got up, snatched a doughnut from the box and bit into its pillowy sweetness. He was licking the sticky sugar from his fingers when a cute girl with wavy coppery hair appeared. Introducing herself as Carrie, the director’s assistant, she wrinkled her nose, and then frowned.
“No cologne! And you needn’t report for work dressed for church. Regular clothing is fine.” Carrie glanced at her clipboard. “Scene Twenty-Six—interior of Jake’s Billiards—is a group scene in which the best pool player—that’s Skip Alexander I believe—will play a round with the protagonist. Protagonist meaning Virgil Starkwell played by Woody Allen himself.”
Carrie had a chirping, no-nonsense voice. “Mr. Allen is also the writer and director. Meaning he is both brilliant and extremely busy. Mr. Allen will join us on Thursday for the actual filming. That way, you boys will have loads of time to learn the routine with Maxwell Hunt, Woody’s stand-in.”
Scene Twenty-Seven was an exterior daytime shot in which the lead ruffian—this word “ruff-ee-an” sounded to Rafa like wind whistling down an alley—would chase Woody and destroy his cello.
“And that’s it, two straightforward scenes,” Carrie said, holding up two fingers to illustrate.
“Peace, Curly,” Rafa said, holding fingers in an identical V to tease her. His buddies laughed.
“It’s Carrie,” Carrie said, not smiling. “On your feet, please.” Chairs scraped the floor.
After sizing them up, Carrie gave the role of lead ruffian to Rafa, a boy who was, as she put it, “The same height as Mr. Allen, but huskier.” The role paid an extra seven dollars a day. Rafa could scarcely believe his ears. Bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop! Those congas were his.
The Jake’s Billiards set was authentic enough except the ceiling was open to the sky, the pool table ringed by boom mikes and big cameras on dollies. Right off, Skip was given a stocking cap to hide his Afro. These days Skip was always spouting Black Power this and Black Power that, and here he was, done up in a do-rag. He looked so damned miserable, Rafa felt sorry for him.
Confident of his pool-playing skills, Rafa expected the run-through would be a snap, but with every single step around the green felt-covered table choreographed, it wasn’t so easy. Once Roger, the ruddy assistant director, approved a sequence, the boys had to perform it on demand, coordinating precision timing with each other—inwardly counting one, two, three and so on. Still, they did okay, and at quitting time, Roger insisted on exchanging awkward high-fives with each of them.
When Rafa brought up the movie at dinner, his parents, disappointed that no actual stars were involved, were only mildly interested. His father sat at the kitchen table, his black hair damp from washing up after working all day at the shipyards.
“Glad you got a job. That Nelson’s looking out for you boys,” he said, reaching into a folded dishtowel for a flour tortilla. His dark forearms were mottled with burns from his welder’s blowtorch. “What are you planning to do with your earnings?”
“I’m buying a set of congas,” Rafa answered. He rubbed dried oregano between his fingers over the sopa de pollo and looked up to see the disapproval on his father’s face. “What?” Rafa protested. “Don’t worry about it. It’s my money.” His dad probably wanted him to put it away for “his future,” or something equally vague and unimaginable.
Osmosis, a word from biology, described exactly how his dad communicated. The rules of correct behavior were never laid out, but somehow Rafa absorbed them. Like the time in third grade, when at his friend Pete’s instigation, Rafa had lifted two pencils and a padlock from Woolworth’s, useless items that left queasiness in the pit of his stomach, imagining his father’s disappointment. He dumped the stolen goods into a sewer and then kept Pete at arm’s-length.
His father cleared his throat. “Calm down, son. Drums?”
“Rafa plays a gang member who beats up a man and trashes his fiddle,” his sister Ruthie piped up. A year older than Rafa, Ruthie was a nerd who worshipped a folksinger named Bob Dylan, a frizzy-haired white boy with a voice like a foghorn.
“What would you know?” Rafa asked, guessing that she must have been talking to Tomasita next door.
“I know you’re a dimwit.” Ruthie flicked a strand of black hair behind her ear.
“My grandfather played fiddle,” his mother said wistfully, stirring her soup. Her hazel eyes had a certain dreaminess whenever she spoke of her New Mexico childhood.
“A cello, Moms, not a fiddle,” Rafa said, smiling at his mother. “Ruthie’s a moron.” He began kicking the table leg, taking side glances at his sister, who kept eating. Something about the way Ruthie acted these days made him want to bug her. She spent hours on the telephone talking with girlfriends about homework and boys. Not so long ago, Rafa and Ruthie watched the same TV shows and went to the same movies together, but now they lived on different planets. “Moron,” he repeated.
“Knock it off,” his father said. “Summer won’t last forever, Rafa. You’ll be a grown man before you know it. The sooner that goddamned Nixon gets us out of Vietnam, the better. I served my nation in World War II, but the Vietnamese people never did anything to me.”
His father worried too much, Rafa thought. The war would be over by the time he was eighteen. The high-pitched ring of the doorbell startled him.
“That’s probably Junie,” he said. “I’m going next door to rehearse my lines.”
“Sure. Rehearse kissing Tomasita,” Ruthie said, making infuriating smoochy sounds.
He scowled at his sister and got up from the table. The light outside had shifted towards shadow, and tiny brown birds on their way home flitted past the kitchen window.
On Tuesday, the boys missed cues, cracked up like schoolgirls, bumped into cameras, stumbled over the cables that snaked across the floor of Jake’s Billiards, until Roger leapt from his chair and hurled his cap into the air.
“That’s enough, mates, stop fooling around!” he shouted, his fists on his belt, cheeks flushed pink as cherry soda above his mustache. “Chalk the stick like you mean it! Show me a bit of swagger!”
Behind Roger’s back, Rafa mimicked the director’s stance, widened his eyes and wagged his index finger in a silent pantomime. His buddies hooted. Roger’s eyes darted around the set, looking for the joke. Not finding it, he muttered, “Lord help us.”
The day’s work required more than trick shots with five-and-a-half-foot cue sticks. It called for the boys to circle the pool table and yell things like “That’s killer, man,” and “Loose as a goose!” in what Roger called “a rowdy Greek chorus, with a ghetto accent.” “Ghetto” Rafa got. He was confused about the rowdy singing, but there wasn’t time to ask. Roger continued: the boys were to heckle the Woody character—“Virgil! I like your cello, Virgil!”—represented by his stand-in Maxwell Hunt, a kindly bear-like man with hair a weird shade of orange, who helped them run their lines at breaks.
In late afternoon, a slight male figure in a hooded gray sweatshirt appeared. He followed the rehearsal from behind dark glasses, shifting his weight from one tennis-shoed foot to the other, as if he had to pee. After he whispered to Roger and trotted off, Roger crooked his finger at Rafa, who saw the congas at Rolando’s Pawnshop receding into the distance. His heart sank but he thrust his chin out, bracing himself for the bad news.
“Cheer up, kid,” Roger said, “The hair’s not accurate, is all. Make-up will give you a buzz cut in the morning.”
Rafa let out a sigh of relief. He still had the job. He felt light-headed, grateful, happy. “Hey, Roger, was that guy Woody?”
“Mister Allen to you,” Roger said, before turning away.
“Mister Allen to you,” Rafa said, under his breath. Roger was a jerk.
At quitting time, the boys hightailed it to the Youth Center, crowding into Nelson’s cluttered office, where he was listening to the radio. The boys pulled up chairs around the desk, while Rafa leaned against a wall. The announcer filled the room with talk of mounting body counts and napalm, an October moratorium.
“So how goes it?” Nelson said, looking up at the boys as he rubbed his bloodshot eyes.
“So far, pretty good,” Skip reported. “My man Rog says making films is all about hurry up and wait, but they keep us busy with costume, make-up . . . movie stuff.” He extracted an Afro pick from his back pocket and leisurely raked it through his hair, patting it back into place.
“S’all right,” Larry said. “Craft service’s got banana crème pie for days.”
“That Roger-dude needs to stop yelling ‘Hey you!’ whenever he has something to say,” Junie added, “I told him my name a million times, but the man’s got wax in the ears.”
“Mister Potatohead is sensitive,” said Larry, whacking the back of Junie’s head.
“Name’s Junie!” he yelped, slugging Larry on the arm.
“Why so quiet, Rafa?” Nelson asked.
“I’m just thinking about my drums.”
Ramona in make-up was tall and gray-haired, with huge red earrings in the shape of hearts. She sat Rafa in front of a mirror while she shaved his head, then sponged Egyptian Brown pancake on his face, arms and chest.
“The wifebeater t-shirt did it for Brando in Streetcar,” she said. “Fabulous movie. You’re a good-looking kid, anything can happen, you never know. Are you nervous?”
“Nah,” Rafa said. He ran a hand across the stubble on his head and grinned at how different he looked now, his eyebrows like black caterpillars over his deep-set eyes.
“You need a little plum shadow on the chin,” Ramona said. “Back in a sec, hon, don’t move.”
Caught up by his reflection, Rafa bit his lip and hardened his eyes like James Cagney. He bared his teeth like a vampire. He leaned back against the chair and drew hard on an imaginary cigarette between his fingers like a surly James Dean. He half closed his eyes, as if he were French-kissing Tomasita. He stayed like that for a while, relishing the memory of the previous evening on Tomasita’s back stairs. He turned to the right and lifted one eyebrow like Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind. He drew his head back like a snake and narrowed his gaze, starting at the stranger glowering back at him. He looked like a mean no-good thug, his father’s worst nightmare. He snarled, and then laughed. Acting was all right.
At the dress rehearsal of what Roger had begun referring to as Rafa’s Big Scene, Maxwell had to tear down Valencia Street, with Rafa and Skip close behind. When Skip caught Maxwell in a headlock, Rafa would grab the cello, swing it like a baseball bat and smash it against the sidewalk, then jump up and down on it for good measure. They ran the scene a few times, miming the destruction of the instrument, which was to be saved for the actual filming.
Rafa had his lines down solid, but Roger’s multiple acting notes threw his timing off. Rafa had to hold his head at the correct angle so the camera could track his expression. He had to maintain what Roger called “a menacing gangster stance.” He had to remember not to hunch his shoulders, not to flail his arms like a windmill, not to blink so darned much. And he had to keep from breaking up whenever that goofball Larry made faces on the sidelines.
“How difficult could it be?” Roger said with exasperation.
“Sorry, man,” Rafa said.
“Don’t waste my time, kid,” Roger said, jabbing a finger into Rafa’s chest.
“Hey!” Rafa said, the blood rushing into his head, his hands clenching.
Roger walked away, yelling, “Take fifteen!,” clearing the set and leaving Rafa in a slow boil.
Asshole, Rafa thought. His own father had never laid a hand on him, ever.
“Don’t take it personal, Rafa. Let me work with you on it,” Maxwell said, leaning the cello against a wall. “First I gotta make a call.” And off he lumbered.
Personal? How else should he take it? Rafa took a deep breath, but he was shaking. A jet streaked overhead and disappeared into silence, leaving only the heavy pounding of his heart. He pictured his father leaving for the shipyard before dawn, carrying a lunchbox and a thermos of hot coffee. His father would not want him to quit. Besides, only two more days of dealing with this dick Roger and he’d have his drums.
As he waited, Rafa’s eye fell on the cello. He picked it up and sat on the doorstep outside of Jake’s Billiards, ran his hand lightly over the curved shell. He had never seen a cello up close, much less held one. The instrument’s body was curved at the sides like Tomasita’s waist, wood joined to wood in a barely visible seam. In the sunlight, the polished surface, the same brown as his skin, showed faint striations and a dust of golden freckles. He ran his fingers along the translucent cords pulled taut across the long neck, knotted like tiny fists around flat wooden pegs. He lay his ear against the instrument and pulled a cord. Poom! A heavy stone dropping into water. Pooom! A mellower extended vibration, distant thunder flattened by rain. He tapped the shell softly with his fingers. Pom! He rapped it with his knuckle. Pomm! Nice. He leaned in and lightly tapped out: Pomm-pomm-pomm-pomm-pomm! A hollow sound, brighter than a conga’s voice, but just as magical. The vibrations flowed through his body and soothed him.
When Woody Allen arrived on the set Thursday, he kept himself hidden under a floppy hat that looked like he’d picked it up at Goodwill. Rafa expected a comedian to waddle pigeon-toed or maybe tell a knock-knock joke, but there wasn’t a trace of funny about him. This was the wonderful Mister Allen? With jumpy eyes behind black-framed glasses, he looked like the clerk at Kosmic Komix. The thing was, Woody Allen never said a word to his fellow actors, not “Hello,” “Good morning,” or “Howya doing?” In fact, he never once glanced their way. Rafa wondered about Woody’s parents, who obviously hadn’t taught him basic manners.
Right off, there was a hitch filming the scene inside Jake’s Billiards. With cameras rolling, Skip could not let himself miss a shot.
“For real. How am I going to lose a round of pool?” Skip asked Roger in his booming voice, shaking his stockinged head and looking to his buddies for support.
“Yeah,” Rafa quickly agreed, glad to see Roger’s mouth drop in disbelief.
“Yeah!” the other boys echoed.
“It’s in the bloody script!” Roger bellowed, his face redder than ever. “Je-sus, kid! Three days of rehearsals and now you have a problem?” Skip, taller by four inches, fixed Roger in his gaze.
“Alright. Alright,” Roger said, raising his hands as if pushing Skip back. Turning to Woody, he looked as if he wanted to cry. “Sorry, Mr. Allen. We’ll take ten.”
Woody vanished, leaving his cue stick behind. It took a half-hour of Roger’s pleading with Skip, a lengthy telephone consultation with Nelson, followed by a chat between Nelson and Skip, to get the cameras rolling. And after thirty-seven takes, just before quitting time, “Jake’s Billiards” was in the can. One more day, one more scene to go.
The next morning, Rafa, primed in his Brando t-shirt, waited with Skip outside of Jake’s Billiards as Woody Allen took a sip of coffee from a blue mug, then nodded.
“Quiet on the set!” Roger commanded. Cameras swung into position. Woody handed his hat and mug to Carrie, who handed them off to her assistant.
Rafa was so excited his skin prickled. As he slid into place between Skip in his stocking cap, and Woody, pale as a ghost, he thought about how his father and Nelson trusted him to do a good job. He thought about Tomasita who was proud about his starring in a movie. He thought about playing those congas night and day. This was it, his Big Scene. He was ready to snarl and hiss like the script called for and kick the hell out of the cello.
Stretching his muscles, Rafa inadvertently nudged Woody’s shoulder and felt a tremble. He turned. Woody turned. Their eyes locked. Zzzzit! Something flickered in Woody’s eyes before he quickly averted his gaze and pulled away as if he had touched a live electrical wire.
What was that look? Rafa wondered.
“Scene Twenty-Seven!” Roger shouted.
What was it?
Then it dawned on him. What he saw was fear. Pure fear. Rafa’s face began to burn with shame, the heat spreading throughout his body and making him dizzy. Fuck, Rafa thought. Fuck. Woody Allen was terrified. Woody Allen. That important Mister Al-len, the brilliant movie guy from New York, was terrified of Rafa Cordova, a fifteen-year-old kid from the barrio wearing make-up.
Woody Allen was shitting his chonies because he thought Rafa and his buddies were the real thing: hoodlums who’d just as soon beat Woody’s ignorant ass as look at him. They weren’t hired to act like ruffians; they were hired because they were ruffians. Rafa felt like he’d taken a punch to the solar plexus. Now it made sense, that punk Roger asking him, “How difficult could it be?” And Carrie, always demanding they act natural. Even Maxwell. Yeah. His so-called friend Maxwell. To keep from throwing up, Rafa closed his eyes and took a deep breath, becoming angrier as the truth sank in.
The black-and-white clapboard cracked in his ears like a thunderbolt.
On the count of one, Woody Allen began running, lugging the cello under his skinny-ass arm. On two, Skip took after him, followed by Rafa, who moved as rehearsed all week and into his dreams. Three, Skip and Rafa caught Woody on the marker outside of Chuck’s Groceries. Four. Skip’s arm twisting around Woody’s neck, Woody went down like a deer. Five. Rafa grabbed hold of the bulky cello, pressed it to his chest, felt its heft and promise through his t-shirt. Six. Fuck ‘em. Ruin a beautiful cello just because these bozos had it in the script? It was a fucking work of art, made for music making. He was not going to bust it. There had to be another way to get his congas. Seven. Rafa cranked his legs and bolted, propelling himself and the cello past the startled actors and crew, shaved-head and Egyptian Brown make-up and all. He kept going, clutching the instrument with both hands, adrenalin burning through his veins. Eight. He heard Skip yelling in his familiar deep voice, “Man, you serious?” Heard the angry howls from the crew: “Fucking clown!” “Get back here, you little shithead!” “Shoulda known better.” Nine. Rafa’s feet rose into the air and he sailed with the cello past the old security guard into the blurred streets he’d known since forever, his body dripping sweat and Max Factor, barreling past mamas with babies, darting past girls throwing jacks and little kids on trikes, his shoes skimming above the concrete sidewalks, weaving through four lanes of honking cars on South Van Ness Avenue, feeling his heart about to explode he sped past dilapidated Victorians and auto repair shops, the Youth Center, the elementary school, Kilpatrick’s Bread Factory.
At the corner of Sixteenth and Folsom, Rafa stopped to catch his breath and it was then that he heard it—beyond the beating of his heart—the neighborhood, the city, the entire universe pounding out clave, bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop!
NOTE: All characters in “Take the Money and Run–1968”—even the one based on a certain New York-based filmmaker who made his first feature in San Francisco in 1968—are entirely fictional.
About Linda Zamora Lucero
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