Excerpt from a longer story
A Chihuahua Named Tequila
I named my dog Tequila. I’m not sure why exactly except that I come from a family with strange names. No, let me back up, I have a mother who gives strange names to her children. She doesn’t do this as a sadistic act, but that’s just her way. For instance, she named me Calendula, that’s right, the name of a flower.
And there’s a story behind the name in case you have to time to hear it. And even if you don’t, I know it by rote having heard my mother tell her friends a hundred times. I’ll give you the short version without the hand gestures or histrionics, leaving out the labor pains and fainting father. My father gave a macho attitude a run for the money, but he couldn’t handle the indirect pain of childbirth—oh, all the suffering! Dios Mios!
In 1969, my mother became pregnant with me, her fifth child and her last. She developed a rash halfway through her pregnancy and everything her obstetrician threw her way only seemed to make it worse. So for the first time in her life, and from the advice of a friend, my mother saw a naturopath.
Back in 1969 that was considered a hippie thing to do, and my mother a Latina Catholic chose not to associate with “all those drug addicts” as she kindly put it. But this naturopath came with high recommendations and my mother had grown desperate trying to rid of her condition. Besides, the summer in which I was born turned out to be the hottest one on record so as I grew inside her expanding her waistline and that sun bore down on her flesh, the rash intensified.
To make a long story short, the naturopath recommended a calendula crème and my mother said if that plant healed her of her troubles then she would name her baby after it, boy or girl. Besides, my father, Manual Juan Velasquez, had been prodding my mother Estella Maria to come up with a name for me. But she found that ludicrous at the time since back then you didn’t know the sex of a child until it was born. And as usual, my father was expecting a son. After all, Estella Maria had already given birth to three sons, so why not another one?
Of course, the name Calendula wouldn’t do for a son. What kind of name was that for a boy, especially one who would become a soccer champion and play for the homeland, Mexico? My father was unaware of the irritation he caused my mother when he referred to Mexico as the homeland. As far as she was concerned, the USA was her home.
They had done alright. My father had a good job supervising other men for a construction company. And our family owned a home in a relatively nice, but suburban neighborhood outside of Los Angeles. We liked our neighbors and spoke Spanish around them, but I’m digressing. You want to know about my dog’s name, right?
Only a lush would name their dog after a Mexican brew and no, I never got my dog drunk on tequila. When I adopted him, a Chihuahua mix, I had just attended a college football game and the song “Tequila” that the marching band performed stuck in my head.
So when the lady at the shelter asked me to name my new dog the only word that popped out of my head was tequila. And it’s not a bad name for him. He seemed like a sassy dog, even a macho dog. If he was human, he would probably enter some contest to see how many tequila shots he could down at a party. All bets would be placed on him, not that I think of my puppy as the gambling type, but we’re imagining him as human.
As far as dogs go I wouldn’t say that he’s well behaved. He vomits on the carpet, runs into the street nearly missing oncoming cars, and he pees on both moving and non-moving objects. He’s a Don Juan around all the female hounds. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these days I end up with a wicked lawsuit because of my dog. He snaps at other people, especially men I date and he garnered the reputation as an ankle biter. Okay, so he’s far from perfect and he’s high maintenance too.
I thought by adopting a Chihuahua instead of a silky terrier that I would have ended up with a come-as-you-are dog, but no, this dog enjoys a good massage and grooming session, the only time he doesn’t act unruly. No wonder el perro ended up in a dog shelter! Only a mother could love him or someone with a guilt-complex.
So you’re wondering by now where this story is going and why I’m going on about my unruly Chihuahua, which is hardly news, right? I’ve been invited to a family reunion in Seattle and I can’t take the dog on the plane with me, nor does my family want me to bring Tequila along. My mother seemed adamant against the idea when I last spoke to her on the phone. Which means that I’ll need to find a sitter for the dog, but who among my friends, who all despise him will grant me such a favor?
I hit up the animal activists friends first and applied the guilt technique. Tequila pulled out his forlorn look with his large brown weeping Mexican eyes. Really, he was on his best behavior until he heard a dog barking on TV and that set him off on one of his alpha dog rampages. He peed on the couch which of course shocked my friends. “So, okay, think of him as an animal in the wild,” I begged, “you wouldn’t leave him alone to starve to death, would you?”
My friend Emilie countered, “He’s hardly a wild dog even if he’s attached to his primal instincts. And did I tell you I just bought a new couch–an expensive new couch?”
Margo seemed more adamant against taking on a Chihuahua as an animal rights cause. “Remember that time he snarled at me and wouldn’t let me out of your bathroom? Remember when he almost bit my ankles? He was that close,” she pointed to a foot away from her ankles. And Mark, even a devoted activist, didn’t have a soft spot for dogs, and especially hated Chihuahuas because he was attacked by one as a child. There were limits to his compassion.
Next, I tried the kennels but they weren’t taking any smaller dogs at that time. One of the kennels had been handed a lawsuit for losing a precious rat terrier that somehow escaped his kennel. And so no dice for Tequila. My family didn’t want him, my friends didn’t want him, and even the expensive dog boarding places didn’t want him or my bribes.
Fortunately, new neighbors had moved into my apartment building, a Gay couple who seemed to love Chihuahuas. I thought of approaching them to take care of Tequila for a week and I would pay them generously for the favor, but then a wicked thought came to me.
What if Tequila pulled out all the stops of his bad dog behavior and turned off these men towards all of Tequila’s kind? Only a real softy could love that dog, and even I had my difficult moments. However, I would have acted like a bad mother if I left that dog alone for a week. I’d return to a trashed and smelly apartment. My landlord would have evicted me. He hated the dog, despised the barking, and didn’t care much for my kind either.
I took my chances and approached Gregory and Gary who turned out were delighted to dog sit for a week and they refused payment. What are they loco?
“Oh, I insist. He’s really a lot of work and…”
Gregory tickled Tequila’s chin, “Goochie, goochi goo… He reminds me of that Taco Bell dog.”
“I wouldn’t do that if I was you. He might turn on you.”
Tequila smiled and wagged his tail. He seemed to relish the attention and the under-the-chin massage. He didn’t usually act friendly towards men, but maybe Gay men didn’t seem like a threat to him. They possessed a different sort of energy that Tequila warmed up to right away.
Gary’s enthusiasm grew as he watched his partner play with my dog. “We can take him to the doggy bakery…You know the one we pass by on our way to work.” He glanced at Tequila’s large eyes, “He does resemble the Taco Bell dog.”
Greg nodded with enthusiasm. “And he can meet others of his kind…”
I panicked. “You mean the Taco Bell pack? I don’t think that’s a good idea to take him to a bakery.”
“Oh, why not?” Greg whined.
“Hmmm, how can I put this delicately? He doesn’t get along well with his own kind.”
“You mean he doesn’t like other Chihuahuas?”
“He doesn’t like any type of dog. Taking him for a walk….” I stopped talking before I sabotaged my good fortune. Did they need to know that Tequila would attack any dog no matter how large or small, or male or female? By the time they found out I would have been halfway between LA and Seattle, on the way to a family reunion that I didn’t even want to attend. And my family would never have allowed me to use my dog as an excuse. Just leave him at the vet my mother said, and get your butt over here.
And if logic didn’t do the trick, good old Catholic guilt would leave me too paralyzed to act. Zombie-like I would obey my mother, a ruthless dictator at times who practiced every trick in the book. She wrote it after all. All of you Latinas have my mother to thank for your misery.
Now that the dog problem had been solved, I needed to steel myself for another episode of mi familia loco. After the plane arrived at the Sea-Tac Airport, I questioned my logic of attending the reunion. My sister who stole my boyfriend and married him, my cousin who switched teams and was known as “La Lesbian” and despised by the more conservative relatives, my brother Pedro Rìo who lost his job and lived in his car for a short period, and my lecherous uncle were all in attendance. I could hardly wait to become reacquainted with them.
I would have been better off staying home with Tequila and battling with my guilt. Instead, I spent two hours on a plane with hacking families spreading viruses and God knows what else through the recycled air system. Then I’d spend three days in a run-down moldy and cluttered house that started its day as a house “with potential”—that was decades ago. I saw myself listening to my mother rattling off tangents and snippets of gossip about who she despised that week.
My “ungrateful” twin brothers (Pebbles and Stone) stayed in Los Angeles to work on their latest architect design. After all, they had a deadline, but my mother experienced outrage towards the sons she gave birth to so long ago. Didn’t they remember all the suffering she endured to bring them in the world so that they could design all those useless ugly condos? Hmmm, would she prefer that they quit their job and live on the streets so that they could attend this crazy reunion?” I wished that I had an excuse not to attend.
After I entered the family room, I noticed that the drama had already begun with my mother holding center court. I noticed a migraine coming on as I approached my mother and embraced her. It turned out that La Lesbian brought her partner and this woke everyone out of their denial about Maria.
Not that I cared who she dated. I envied her boldness. Imagine bringing your same-sex lover to a family gathering hosted by my crazy Catholic mother. And if that wasn’t enough to send me hailing a taxi back to the airport, my sister, Cynthia (not her real name), announced that she and her husband (my former boyfriend) were filing for divorce. She caught him cheating with his secretary.
How could she have not known how easy it was to seduce the man since she seduced him when he lived with me, and in my bed? Begging for my sympathy, she didn’t receive an ounce of it. Now she had the nerve to air out her personal problems at a family reunion.
Meanwhile, Pedro Rìo held relatives hostage on the couch telling the others about his time on the streets. Although I sympathized with him, he since moved on and found a job at a computer company that paid him a monthly salary equivalent to a year of wages for me. Who were all these people anyways? I missed Tequila and his macho ways.
Hunger provoked me to scarf down my mother’s enchiladas. No one made enchiladas like my mother. They melted in your mouth and then the spices and chilies hit you slowly until you had to down some kind of liquid to cool off the tongue. After that, I downed a shot of tequila for good measure. I needed it.
Meanwhile La Lesbian sidled up to me. “Hey, cousin, how have you been? How’s your dog? What’s his name?”
I hugged her. “I named him Tequila.
You know I’m still waitressing at the same place.”
“Have you met anyone special?”
“Not unless Tequila counts.”
She raised a thick eyebrow, “Perhaps, I can introduce you to a nice woman…”
“No thanks. I’m not interested in playing for the other side.”
She quickly changed the topic, “Didn’t you say that you were returning to school to obtain a Masters in fine art?”
I laughed. “Wow! Is this a grilling session or what? I never returned to college to earn a Masters in fine art. What would have been the point?”
She frowned at me. “Chica, when are you going to follow your heart?”
I glance nervously at my mother, the real reason why I didn’t return to college—she thought it was a bad idea, that I would look too smart and never land a husband. I’d end up as a lonely librarian. Never mind that I would have obtained my Master in art not library sciences. She always mixed thing up.
“Follow my heart, are you joking? Who follows their heart?”
La Lesbian grabbed her partner’s hand and dragged her over to us. “We did,” she boasted and one-upped me as usual.
“Hmmm, are you happy with your decision? You know the relatives all despise you, except me of course.”
She let out a sigh. “Yeah, I didn’t want to come to this reunion. Kathy dragged me here telling me that family is the most important.” She smiled at her partner. “But her family accepts us, mine doesn’t.”
Pedro entered the kitchen and wolfed down some enchiladas. He grinned at us.
“So Bro, how’s the new job?”
His gaze quickly dropped to the floor and he stared at his worn out loafers. “Promise not to tell Mama, but there is no software job.”
“What? Are you joking? What do you mean there is no software job? What are you doing now?”
He chuckled to himself, “I work in building maintenance.”
“Is that the politically correct term for you work as a janitor?”
“I take offense to that. I manage the janitorial team on the night shift. The pay isn’t bad, but Mama wouldn’t have respected me if I told her about my new job. So I lied about the software company.”
I stifled a laugh, “Wow! And all this time I actually envied you.”
“The thing is Sis, that Mama has too high of expectations of us kids.”
“Tell me about it. I’ve been the brunt of her animosities for years because I majored in art and work as a waitress. Never mind that I actually have talent as a painter and that I’ve branched out into sculpting. Never mind that I’ve actually had my work appear in group shows at galleries and that I sold one painting for eight hundred dollars, never mind all of that because Mama is more concerned about me marrying some rich man. Like, I’m going to meet one waitressing at a café.”
to be continued…