1942 – 49 The Early Formative Years Part One

C. H. Diaz

At age nine I started working at the El Indio tortilla factory on Broadway and 92nd Street in Los Angeles. I worked every weekday morning from 6:00 AM until about 8:30 AM just before school. My grandmother got me the job because she shopped there and knew Oscar the owner.

My job was to stack the tortillas in one dozen stacks as they came off the corn tortilla making machine.  As I would pick the steaming tortilla off the little conveyor belt it was really easy to puncture the tortilla and the steam would burn my fingers.  It took a while to learn how to take them without ripping any small holes in the tortilla, but I learned.

On Saturdays I would work an eight-hour shift at El Indio and help Oscar with other chores besides counting tortillas.  I helped him make masa, (a ground corn dough used for making tamales), menudo and other stuff.  After a while he would let me work the counter selling stuff to customers.

One of the proudest days of my life was the day I waited on my first customer.  Oscar had actually trusted me to handle the customer, ringing up the cash register and making change. I was so proud of myself, it was like I was walking on air.

Earned Pride, an old fashion word that one feels when they know they have done something really good. Earned PRIDE, not the self-esteem that they hand out to our kids today. We know when we’ve done something that makes us feel proud and the kids today know they haven’t done anything when everyone is handing them some kind of self-esteem award.

After a hard day’s work on Saturday’s Oscar would give me a buck.  Hey, it was 1946 and I was happy to make the buck.  I don’t remember what I got paid for the mornings I worked, but it was a lot less than a buck. Maybe a quarter.

Because of the Liberal imposed minimum wage law, today a nine-year-old kid isn’t allowed to work for the equivalent of a buck a day (probably about $5.00 today) or even work at all.  Remember, the government is here to protect kids from evil capitalists that would love to exploit our young children.  So with nothing to do, today’s kids internalize with video games, TV or join gangs, smoke dope and just hang out. If they are on school drugs, they probably just drop out.

I didn’t have time for any of that, I was busy working and learning the ways of Capitalism.  I only worked at El Indio for about a year or two, but whatever length of time it was, it was time well spent.

While I said I didn’t get into trouble, I meant trouble with the law.  I was just as much a brat as any kid today and I was a very active kid, maybe even hyper active and I couldn’t stop talking.   I would always finish my class assignment first and whenever I did I would start talking to other kids.

In Kindergarten, during the nap time, we used to have to sleep on little boards that had two inch feet.  Most kids adapted to the nap time, but I was a more active kid.  So active the teacher had to tie me to the board because I wouldn’t sleep, rest or quit running around.  I guess today a school psychologist would give me some kind of drugs to calm my hyperactive mental problem.  I was just a kid being a kid.

The idea of giving drugs to our children, in the public school system, is an abomination.  Children get hooked on these drugs and their mental physical development can be affected.  The leader of the Columbine School shooting was loaded with school drugs and kids suffer depression and commit suicide at much greater rates today.  Who in the hell authorized the public school system to give our children drugs?

Each of you reading this must see the documentary, “The War on Kids” produced by Jeremy Carr, Dawn Fidrick and Cevin D. Soling.  If the truth in this documentary doesn’t wake you up, nothing will.

My mother wasn’t the joining the PTA type of mother and she never attended any school functions.  I would pretend that I didn’t tell her about any events to cover me when she didn’t show up.  I remember I would wonder why she never showed up, but I got used to it. One thing good about that was when any teacher spanked me or disciplined me I didn’t have to worry about her showing up and chewing out the teacher.  Unlike today in my mom’s eyes I was always guilty. And most of the time, I WAS.

When I started school my mom would walk me, at least until the various moms made a deal with one of moms walking with us the entire two and a half miles.  I think at around the second grade I was allowed to walk to school myself.  I was given strict orders on how to cross the streets and how not to J walk.

My mother, in fact most mothers, would teach their little children to ask a stranger to walk us across a street even at a signal.  I remember many times holding the hand of a complete stranger as he or she walked me across the street.  Sounds funny doesn’t it?  What are children taught today about strangers?  What did you teach your kids about strangers?

Around the third grade I had my teacher going nuts with my talking and she couldn’t stop me. She was really losing it.

In an act of frustration, the teacher had the bright idea to embarrass me the next time she caught me talking.  She warned me she would tie a girl’s ribbon around my head the next time she caught me talking.  It didn’t take long before she was wrapping a two-inch-wide yellow ribbon around from my chin with a huge bow on top of my head.

I think it worked for about five minutes and when I started talking again she went ballistic.  She ran at me down the aisle and grabbed the bow and a chunk of my hair and drug me up the aisle to her desk yelling at me all the way. When we arrived at the desk she opened her desk drawer, grabbed a ruler, forced my hands out and whacked the top of my hands a few times.  And I mean WHACKED!

That pretty much shut me up. Today a teacher would be charged with child abuse, another government perk of the politically correct liberal world that has turned most parents into diaper sniffers who treat their kids as though they were little gods who can do no wrong.

Another thing that shut me up was my mother marrying the man I mentioned earlier, Tony Martinez.

Tony was one bad ass in the local area.  Nobody screwed with Tony Martinez.  He was a tall, dark haired, handsome man, of Mexican descent who could fight like no one else. Nobody screwed with Tony. He looked a lot like Caesar Romero when he was younger.

On the west corner of 89th & Broadway was a bar named The 89th Club and it was Tony’s hangout.  As the story goes a heavyweight contender walked in to the 89th Club one night with his entourage and was talking like a big hot shot. When Tony walked in the contender stopped talking, rounded up his people and left.

I remember one morning Tony left the house, on his way to work, and I was still eating breakfast.  He hadn’t been gone about fifteen or twenty minutes when we heard sounds from the porch.  When my mom opened the door to check, it was Tony half standing and half way on the porch floor bleeding from his head all over.  He was a mass of blood.

My mother, of course, went into a panic while helping him to a chair in the living room.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I had never seen anyone with that much blood all over him.

He said three guys had jumped him and they had fought just around the corner of 89th and Broadway.  He also said the guys who did this to him were still there.  With that I ran out of the house, three houses to the corner, turned right and sure enough, there were three guys laid out on the street and sidewalk.  As I inched closer I saw a lot of blood, brass knuckles, a sap and a bat.

He got jumped by three large men and he still took them out.  Wow, I thought, what a man.  These guys turned out to be collectors for a gambling debt Tony owed. He instantly became my hero.  Even though he was the enforcer of my mother’s punishment when it came to me, I didn’t mind.

As I mentioned earlier my mom really loved Tony. At the time I didn’t know it, I only came to that realization over many years that passed and after I became an adult. What I knew at the time was they fought a lot. His only real problem was he was an alcoholic.  Actually he was a beer-o-holic, he would only drink beer and lots of it.

Tony would drink at the 89th Club and the Yacht Club when he wasn’t working or if they got into a fight.  My mom would take me with her to go to the clubs looking for him.  When she spotted him she would send me in to ask him to come home.  I didn’t like doing that but, what the hell, it was part of life and I did what I was told.

My mom would throw Tony out of the house because he wouldn’t stop drinking, but she always took him back. During one of their break ups he had himself admitted to Camarillo State Hospital to dry out and reform. She believed he was really trying and took me there to visit him. I must have been about ten years old.  The whole place creeped me out, but what really got to me was seeing the Snake Pit.

Looking down from the upper edge of one wall the pit was just that, a pit.  It was all cement, floor and walls, with a drain in the middle. The people all had hospital gowns on and would just wonder around crying and screaming. My mom couldn’t get me out of there fast enough.

But his plan worked and after about six or eight weeks Tony was back in the house. I don’t remember many happy days at home at any time they were married.  They seemed to always argue about his drinking or gambling or something.  I don’t think he was a lover like my real father and he seemed like he loved my mom but they couldn’t stop fighting.  Even when they divorced they didn’t stop fighting.

Most of the fighting, when they were divorced, was over child support payments Tony owed for my brother Danny.  She would threaten Tony with not letting him see his son unless he paid up.

I don’t ever remember her calling my real dad for any child support. Maybe she thought it was a lost cause.  Maybe it was because he never tried to see me or maybe she kept after Tony because she still loved him. At the time I never thought about my real dad or why I never saw him, I was just living my life with the cards I was dealt, trying to grow up and having fun doing it.

My mother was a very beautiful young woman and was quite a catch for Tony.  As I mentioned before she wasn’t the PTA type, but she had very strict rules for me to follow.

Rule 1          No kids in our house, EVER

When I say I was never allowed to have any of my friends in the house I mean never.  In my entire childhood, even up until I joined the Air Force, I never had a friend in our house.  That actually didn’t bother me at the time, it was a rule and I followed the rule. Some shrink reading this might say the reason I am mentioning it in this story of my life proves it did bother me, but Oh Contrere.

I’m writing about it because it was part of my life and that’s what this story is about. Like I said, I was a kid growing up and I didn’t know any better than the life I was living one day at a time.

Rule 2         One swat for every minute late after 3:30 after school, unless I was working.

At least this rule was one I understood. If I wanted to stay after school to play with the other kids, I knew what the price was.  Tony was cool about it.  He would tell me, “You know, I really don’t want to do this.”  I’d say “I know.”

What’s really funny is that one day, when I was about twelve, the swats didn’t hurt anymore.  I had to fake crying so he would eventually stop. It wasn’t because he was holding back, he couldn’t, she was standing there witnessing the punishment and she would say when to stop. I never blamed Tony for spanking me and I never thought of the spankings as beatings or abuse. I was spanked.

Rule 3         All the money I earned must be turned over to her.

This one really hurt me when I started junior high school.  On the first day of school I spotted a real cute blond named Pat.  It took me forever to save the money so I could ask her if I could take her to a movie.  Before I asked her I had to have the money.  I held it back from my mother a nickel at a time.

I had it all planned out, the monies mentioned are estimates because I can’t really remember the actual costs of the day.

I would walk to her house, about four miles.
Thirty cents for bus fare from her house to the Manchester Theater
Fifty cents for the movie tickets
Thirty-five cents for two cokes and a bag of popcorn
Thirty cents bus fare from the theater to her home
Then I would walk home.

I had that $1.40 saved in change and safely hidden so when I asked Pat I’d be ready and able.  To my glorious surprise when I asked her she said yes!  Wow, she actually said yes.  One of the hottest blondes in the seventh grade said yes to me. God Bless America! I just knew I was going to get my first feel of a girl’s boobie! At least I had a shot at it.

We set the date and I gave my mother a phony excuse so I could be gone the three or four hours it would take.  I had it planned so well, my god it took six months to save the money.

That Saturday morning of the great event I had the money in my pants pocket, all in change and my pants were laying on the couch while I was getting ready. Our little rented court house was a one bedroom and I slept on the couch for at least five years.

For some reason or other my mother picked up my pants like she was going to fold them.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing as it happened.  I had planned this better than the great train robbery and at the last minute she picks up my pants and out falls the money.

When my mom saw the money fall out she picked up all the coins, she counted it. She was madder than hell at me. In her mind I had committed one of the biggest crimes possible. A definite No. Embezzlement!

She was relentless in her questioning as I made up one excuse after another, but I had to get the money back.  Finally, when all the excuses ran out, I tried the truth.  With that she simply stated, “You’re too young to be dating any girls.” and kept the money.

I was crushed, I was destroyed, I was ruined, and worst of all, I was losing my first chance to touch a boobie!

I cried. I begged. I pleaded with good old mom, but all my pleading and begging fell on deaf ears.  She would not give me the money and I was grounded to boot.  All that was left was for me to do was to call Pat and while holding back the tears and sobs, I told her that my mom and dad had changed their plans and I had to go visit some aunt or uncle. Up to that point it was the worst day of my life.

Mom had other favorite ways of punishing me.  Standing in the closet for an hour or so was one.  Another was kneeling on the hardwood floors facing the corner for an hour. That may not sound bad but I couldn’t sit on the back of my feet, I had to kneel in an upright position.  Try that on a hardwood floor for an hour.  When she would leave the room I would relax and sit on the back of my feet, but if she caught me, the violation would add fifteen minutes more to my time.

Even though she did those things I can also remember dancing with her as she would have me put my feet on hers while we danced. She was my mom and I loved her.

During the early years from the second grade to about the fourth grade I used to give little girls a nickel to be my girlfriend. Don’t ask me where I got the nickels or if I knew what a girlfriend was but I learned a lesson at a very young age.  You have to have a lot of nickels to be popular with the girls.

Somehow that has stuck with me all my life.