In today’s New Voices, we are pleased to welcome Leo Ríos and his story “Now or Never.” In a Denis Johnson-esque style, a man named Gordo accompanies our narrator to his old frat house for a party. Ríos’s prose is simple, terse but brimming with an earnest honesty, a deep longing for genuine human connection. This is a story you don’t want to miss.
I didn’t know anything about their world anymore. All the people I was closest to had graduated. I missed them. We had grown to love each other. Now, a lot of us were unemployed. Most of us had moved back in with our parents, still believing we were gifted and born to one day rise from the clutter of our lives.
That other time, with that neighbor kid, it had scared me—hearing him yell like he’d been shot, the wound on his thigh muscle red and sliced open. He’d tried to jump the fence and failed, impaling his leg on one of the metal spikes that lined the top. Peeking out from behind my living room curtains, I had stared at him agonize and bleed and curse his dumb luck.
Now I was the one on the wrong side of the fence. I couldn’t imagine pulling my body over because of that memory. So I just stayed there, not knowing what to do, until I saw someone across from me on the other side of the alley. Out of range from the alley’s orange lights, he was standing inside one of the parking garages. I had never seen anyone inside that parking garage. Usually, it was occupied with vehicles. Now this guy was in there. Big and tall, he had a glowing speck of red near his head. It kept dancing around like a sparkler. This guy, it seemed, was holding a cigarette and doing hand motions as if he was singing a hip hop song.
I thought to myself, This foo’s a paisa.
Our garages here were like small caves for beat-up cars. My paisa neighbors liked to kick it deep inside by the cars’ hoods. The diligent LAPD patrolled here like a virus. My paisa neighbors avoided the police because papers: They might not have them, reason enough for becoming invisible.
That was my working theory anyway. I wanted to write a feature article about it one day. Maybe our alley was just high school or college or prison, segregated groups consigned to specific locations: paisa foos posted up inside parking garages, neighborhood foos crawling where they wanted, all the overeducated foos inside their apartments, watching TV or playing video games.
Yeah, gentrification was happening in our neighborhood and young college graduates were moving in. That’s how me and my roommates—two foos I’d met in college—ended up here. But that’s another story. The dilemma of this night had me paranoid. I had no way in to my apartment. Some guy was intimidating me. Maybe gangsters were going to show up and ask me questions again. I tried acting cool but I could feel the paisa foo staring. He had a privileged position. It wasn’t fair. He could see me, but I couldn’t see him, except for that sparkling red glow, the vague outline of his body. I started feeling fearful, edgy, defensive and I guess for no good reason. I didn’t have anything valuable on me except for two twenty-dollar bills. If that paisa foo ended up being my enemy, what was the worst that could happen?