PHYSICS IS HARD ENOUGH without Chulo chasing a rat around the lobby with a broom.
“Got you, you little singao!” he said, business end of the broom pressed to the floor.
I looked up from my textbook. “No, you didn’t.”
The ridiculously casual fat rodent scurried off behind him, down the hall. Chulo looked right, then left, spotted him, and gave chase, broom held high above his head like a battle ax. I tried to find my place again, but by the time I did, Chulo was back and standing in front of my box office window.
“I’m going to kill that rata and put his corpse on a pole as a warning to other rata,” Chulo said, panting from the minor exertion.
“I think the other rats would just eat it.”
The front door opened to daylight and the roar of traffic. A middle-aged white guy wearing a suit with no tie entered. The door closed, restoring the dark and quiet, except for the distant sound of a woman moaning. Chulo drifted off, leaned the broom in the corner, and picked up his mop. He pretended not to pay attention as the captain-of-industry type walked the few steps across the lobby to my bulletproof glass–windowed box office.
“Looks like it’s going to rain,” I said for no reason.
“One please,” the beefeater replied, obviously not wanting to make small talk with me.
“What do you mean?”
“The American or Adonis?” I said, pointing at the sign behind me.
“What’s the difference?”
“Which do you want, straight or gay?”
“Straight, of course.” He looked all indignant.
I punched up a ticket, tore it the long way, and slid it to him in exchange for a five. “Upstairs. There are two shows. Take your pick.” He double-timed his wedding-ring-and-business-suit-wearing ass up the stairs.
Chulo quit pretending to mop and leaned on the wood handle. “Hey, Dwayne, why is it that when you ask them what theater they want, the straight guys don’t know what you are talking about, but the gay guys always do?”
“What are you talking about, Chulo?” I said.
“Well, take that guy.” Chulo walked back up to my window, dragging the mop behind him in a wavy, wet trail. “If he wanted the gay theater, he would have said it straight up, or at least have known which one he wanted when you asked. Instead, he’s like, ‘Gay? How dare you?’”
That whole job was a study in psychology. Or sociology. Or something. God knows what, but something. “Yeah, well, brother, you know how people are.”
“What ‘people,’ hombre? Men. Just men, no women. When have you ever sold a ticket to a señorita?”
“One time this white chick came in with her boyfriend.”
“Okay, one time. Was she a pro?”
“Probably, but that doesn’t make her not a woman.” Man, it was only about 1 p.m., and I had to work to 8:30. Already it was shaping up to be a long, long day.
Chulo went back to swabbing away. The place used to be a fish market until just a couple years before—I think it closed in about ’75—and whenever Chulo mopped the old hardwood, it released a perfume of Pine-Sol and salmon. “Not that women don’t go to pornos in these modern times, hombre,” he said, voice lowered for no reason I could imagine. “They go to the Aster Arts across the street. Have you ever been in there?”
“Can’t say that I have, Chulo.” Well, maybe once, just to check it out. For the architecture.
Chulo pointed at my book sitting on the counter next to the ticket machine. “Hey, what are you reading now?”
“I’m doing my homework.”
“Let me see.”
I held the thick textbook up to the glass.
He leaned forward for a better look. “What is that?”
“Physics. General physics.” I put the book back down.
“Man, you have got to be the only egg-head black guy I’ve ever met. Why are you reading about general physics?”
“I’m going to be an architect.” I had been taking a couple classes a quarter, and it was hard, hard, hard. I hated physics. I never wanted to look at another calculus equation.
“Architect! They don’t let black guys be architects,” he said, leaning his elbow on the mop.
“Do you know any black architects?”
“Leave me alone, Chulo.” I flipped open the book on the counter and feigned reading.