And Where Was
Pancho Villa When You
Really Needed Him?
To me the first day back to school is like a holiday, even better. Everyone gets to wear something new and tries to act more grown-up than the year before, but they forget and start hitting you and running around, so everything's the same. The new teachers are so mixed up they're always missing papers or books and don't even know your name. Everything is a lot of fun, and that's why the first day is the best day of the year. Next to the last day.

In all the world I had three best friends: Maromas, Penguin, and Peanut Butter, and we were together again in the sixth grade. This was going to be a good class even with fat Hortensia Martínez who wet the bed still and stunk like a skunk so nobody wanted to sit next to her. And even with suckass Fidelia Medina who was always the teacher's pet because she was so smart. She told on everybody and nobody could beat her up 'cause she had a father who could speak good English, and would come running to the school to make the principal paddle the winner of the fight. By this I mean that the winner was never Fidelia.

Our new teacher was late and it was just like a party. Fidelia was showing off her new green crocodile notebook that had a special pocket inside for her pencils and erasers that nobody could borrow. It even had a pencil sharpener and the green crocodile notebook was stuffed so full of clean paper that it could hardly get zippered close. Fidelia had to be rich --- she never wore socks with holes in them.

We were happy too because this year we got to be on the second floor of the school with nobody else but the library. And we knew that on fire drills, the most exciting thing in the year, we would get to leave the building by climbing down the fire escape stairs along the wall outside. Everyone else would just get to walk out normal. I was lucky too because I didn't have to go to Carrillo School where my cousins went. Everyone knows Carrillo School has a dead nurse ghost who haunts the toilets. Next year we would all be in the junior high across the railroad tracks. That's if we passed.

It was very noisy when the new teacher walked into the room. Maromas had almost convinced Peanut Butter to meet him later under the bridge instead of going to her dumb Catechism class, and Penguin was teaching me magic tricks, like the one where you tell him what row your card is in and he can tell on the third deal which one is your card. We all shut up when we saw our teacher; we didn't breathe. She was so beautiful, like a movie star. We kept looking at her; she smiled.

She carried a small box with her things: a bottle of lotion, a sewing kit, a box of Kleenex, a desk calendar, a white vase with red plastic roses, and a clay kangaroo with pencils and pens in its stomach. She spread these things on top of her desk and put other things inside the drawers while we waited. Then she wrote her name in big letters on the blackboard: Miss Folsom. Her fingernails were long and polished the same color like her lipstick. She got a Kleenex and wiped the chalk from her hands. Again she smiled to us.

"My name is Miss Folsom. Can everyone say 'Miss Folsom?'"

"Miss Folsom," we repeated. Fidelia was the loudest.

"Fine. And now I have to learn your names." She read her list. "Oh, oh. I can see problems already. Well, I'll just have to seat you in alphabetical order until I've learned your names. When I call your name step up to the desk I'm pointing to. Please be patient and we can change around later after I've learned your names."

She began to read our names: "Goo-ee-ler-mo? Gooeelermo Al-ma-zan?"

We all started to laugh when we figured out what she meant.

Except for Guillermo who didn't know it was his name she was saying so funny. Fidelia pointed to Guillermo. And lucky for him that we already called him "Yemo" or else he would've been called "Gooey" for the rest of his life for sure.

"Just what does Gooeelermo mean?" Miss Folsom asked us.

"Guillermo means William," said Fidelia who knew everything.

"Ah, William. A noble name. Take the first seat, Willie."

After Guillermo, she changed Francisco to Frankie; Juan became Johnny; Joaquin became Jack; and then it was like a game with all of us waiting to see what our new name would sound like. Maromas, who could spell all the words in the world and knew the alphabet already knew where our names would make us sit. So he pretended to be like a traffic cop at a parade, blowing a whistle, waving his arms, and moving us to the new desk even before Miss Folsom who was still trying to read our names. Maromas was funny that way.

"And what is your name?" Miss Folsom asked him, probably thinking she could make him sit down.

"Maromas. Maromas means somersaults," he said as he made an ugly face at Fidelia before she could answer for him.

"Somersaults?" Miss Folsom laughed out loud, real pretty. "No one could possibly be named 'somersaults' now, could he?" She checked her list anyway, to be sure just in case. Maromas wiggled his ears at us and stretched his mouth like a rubber band. Miss Folsom couldn't find his name so she let him keep directing traffic.

"Juan Cardenas?"

Penguin shuffled his feet and walked over to the desk.

"Thank you, Johnny," said Ms. Folsom.

If anybody wants to know, no one, not even his mother, knew where Maromas got his name, but Penguin got his name from the time he ran away from Fort Grant, the reform school. They say that they used to lock up the boys' shoes so they couldn't escape through the cactus, but Penguin ran away barefoot through the desert anyway. When he got to Tucson his feet were all cut up and swollen and he walked like a penguin in a zoo.

At first he used to beat up anybody that called him a penguin, but later he changed his mind and liked his nickname. He even got a penguin tattooed on his arm with India ink after he was captured and sent back to Fort Grant.

"Virginia Jaramillo?"

Never mind how Miss Folsom said that but it was Peanut Butter's real name. And if you want to know why she was called Peanut Butter, it was because the guys in the junior high school said she was just like the commercial on television about some peanut butter: "smooth, creamy, and easy to spread." And the name stuck even though some of us didn't get the joke.

Miss Folsom finally figured out that Maromas was really Antonio Salazar so everybody in the last row had to move one seat down to make room for him. Fidelia was in the last row where she didn't belong, and we were laughing at her 'cause Miss Folsom had skipped her. Fidelia walked up to Miss Folsom's desk when she saw Miss Folsom put her list in the drawer, and to get even with us, Fidelia did her usual showing off.

"My name is Fidelia Medina. Fidelia means 'faithful' but everyone calls me 'Della,'" said the liar 'cause that was the first time any of us had heard her being called that. And God punished her for lying and sat her right next to stinky Hortensia Martínez. Fat Hortensia's name stayed almost the same except that now it sounded like 'whore.'

Miss Folsom had finished off the names quick. Chop, chop and she was done. By the end of the week we were all using our new names. Some of us even forgot our old ones. Except for Maromas. He just pretended to be deaf when Miss Folsom called him Tony.

So that was how our last year in elementary school started.

--- Silviana Wood
From The Chicano / Latino Literary Prize
An Anthology of Prize-Winning
Fiction, Poetry and Drama
Stephanie Fette, Editor
©2008 Arte Público Press
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