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Madison Block Loses a Little Brother for the Ages, Fernie “Belok” Puga

It was hardly before 7 pm when my mom heard the shot on her way home from work. She described it as something like a loud thunderclap. She is now sixty years old. The harrowing clap terrified her and forced her to turn her cart back racing the opposite way. The path along the street is one I’ve walked with her over a thousand times throughout the 18+ years that her stand’s doors have opened for the world on Santa Monica boulevard. The newsstand is a fixture, like the sign that marks the name of the boulevard itself, or the lights that guide the road. But mom’s stand is also subject to a window of time. One day, time will close its doors on the stand’s wooden frames too. It will also leave its place as any fixture is destined to do.

When I think back to when I first met Fernando (or Fernie), I remember the hopefulness of his greeting. There was a way that he lifted his whole chin to salute you, accentuating his cheeks and arching his eyes back as he focused them on yours while letting out an unhesitating smirk. This let you know that he was completely in the space with you as a kindred spirit. Fernie’s ability to hear you out was just as affirming. There was a way that you could express yourself with him without fearing that he’d use it against you. In a crowd of many friends–mostly teenage boys–it was difficult to find that. But Fernie was consistent. He was never out to get anyone unnecessarily. He was a loyal little brother to a pack of young men without many fathers to count among the ranks. He was there for you in any case, and was also bold on his own, which he often had to be, without flinching.

Whether you knew it or not, if you frequented Cahuenga Public Library, you were literally his neighbor. Whether you knew it or not, Fernie wore all the goodness of his neighborhood proudly on his chin. His violent loss now marks the end of an era for the community. His pack of brothers are grieving for him, praying to escape from the nightmare of a thousand memories now flowing out in his name. I salute these brothers–and also every sister and mother and father who Fernie leaves behind–and uplift Fernando “Belok” Puga’s name. Whether it’s clear or not, Fernie now walks with each of us as a giant among the stars as we continue past the boulevard on our way to a home which is still our home. A home we have to continue to claim for a community to still survive.

J.T.

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Pioneer Chicken is Still Kicking

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Pioneer chicken is a childhood favorite of mine going all the way back to when my brother and I were barely tall enough to peer over at the fries being prepared across the counter! The franchise was a frequent must-have up until our early teens, but it was forced to close both of its locations in our neighborhood not long after we finished the eighth grade to be replaced by more popular fast food chains like Little Caesar’s and Del Taco.

Since then, I missed its greasy combinations every time I passed by the restaurant’s old grounds, but the other day when a friend and I were driving through Boyle Heights I just so happened to spot its old sign: the one and only Pioneer chef! As soon as I got home later that afternoon, I shared the news with mom, and it was then quickly settled: we were going the next day.

The following morning, mom and I rolled on through to the place and got our chicken legs, thighs, some mashed potatoes, and of course, the hot and spicy Pioneer rice! And it was great to sit at the old spot’s booth again, knowing that even after all this time, we’re all still here: alive, kicking and enjoying the little roots of our city together.

J.T.