Paving the road to nowhere, one word at a time.

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Location: Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

American born, living in Mexico since 1992.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Who's Gonna Love You?

The curious bumper music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons brings back one of the oddest memories of my childhood, during the awkward early teenage years.

"Who loves you pretty baby, who's gonna help you through the night?"

I never liked the song all that much, but John Hernandez sure did. John Hernandez was Mexican, he had like eight brothers and one sister. His sister was very cute, a couple of years younger than we were. She had her own bedroom.

Everyone else shared two rooms and a patio.

One summer I spent a lot of time with John Hernandez for reasons that aren’t nearly as clear to me now as they were then. I remember that one night he went to his aunt’s house on the other side of town to baby-sit or something, and he drug me along with him. We drank his aunt’s tequila and listened to that goddamned Frankie Valli record over and over again. We talked a lot about girls.

"When tears are in your eyes, and you can't find the way, it's hard to make believe you're happy when you're gray. Baby when you're feelin' like you'll never see the mornin' light, come to me, baby, you'll see."

I met John Hernandez a couple of years before that in Little League, we played ball in the same division. He was with the Tigers and I was with the Indians, and he was a pitcher which I was a catcher. There wasn’t a right-handed hitter in the league who wasn’t afraid of his fast ball. He threw sidearm, and fast, and wild. He also threw a curve ball that broke about a foot and a half, which was illegal but he got away with it way too much. He also had a pitch that he threw about once or twice per game, which was the change-up from hell. I swear, it arced about twelve feet high, it looked like a big giant watermelon waiting to be smashed into oblivion, but your right foot was already jelly from the sidearm heater about a foot inside on the last pitch, so you wound up looking like a club-swinging caveman chasing a gnat.

His team won the championship, we finished next to last.

So, there we were listening to that song, me and John Hernandez, and he even warned me about staying away from his sister. Even though the tequila surely had a lot to do with that, I was somewhat honored that he would even consider me as a threat to his little sister. She was beautiful, dimples and long black hair, but I assured him that his sister was safe. The funny thing was that years later, in high school, his sister and I would become friends, but as pretty and nice as she was, I never considered her for anything more.

Maybe it was that sidearm fastball way inside.

But probably not.

"And when you think the whole wide world has passed you by, you keep on tryin', but you really don't know why. Baby when you need a smile to help the shadows drift away, come to me, baby, you'll see."

John Hernandez was a good-looking kid. Short black hair, dark skin, probably never had to shave that baby-face to this day. John Hernandez had no problem meeting and talking to girls, he did this with grace and confidence, where at the time, I was nothing more than a tall thin dork. Whatever girl I had a crush on never knew it, or if she did, I would have never stood a chance.

One thing that I always appreciated about John Hernandez was this: He encouraged me. I remember one time we went to the freshman high-school dance, and he gave me enough courage to walk up and introduce myself to some girl that had been sending shivers up my spine ever since I laid eyes on her. The funny thing was that I took an instant dislike for her once that I had met her.

And then two weeks later, John Hernandez and I went to a skating rink on the other side of the tracks in the bad part of La Puente. We got a ride there and were to be picked up at eleven, but I didn’t go back with John Hernandez. I met some girl who invited me back to her house and her parents weren’t home. At eleven, John Hernandez was imploring me to come and get in his brothers’ car, but I had other ideas.

I stayed a few hours with her until she fell asleep on the couch and walked five miles back home, scared to death. La Puente was dangerous back then for a white boy at two in the morning, but somehow I avoided trouble, finally sneaking into by bedroom window. The next time that I saw John Hernandez, he made fun of me a bit, the girl wasn’t all that pretty.

But I knew what that was all about. It was as if I had smacked his change-up over the left field wall.

And he knew it, too, he went home alone.

"Who loves you, who's gonna love you, love you? Who's gonna love you?"

I wonder what John Hernandez would have to say about me now, what with some thirteen years living in Mexico.

I wouldn't mind having a tequila with him right now, I'd even put up with that goddamned Frankie Valli for a while. So long as it's just bumper music.


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