Carlos Mojaro was quite a good friend of mine when we were growing up in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. I can’t even remember if Mojaro was his actual last name. The trouble with getting older is that I remember things that never even happened. But I’m pretty sure that what I’m about to write now did happen to some extent. Carlos lived two houses away from mine. They lived on the first-floor apartment and Carlos had a little clubhouse in the basement. His father also had a gigantic printing machine in the basement that he was always repairing. Carlos was about a year or two older than me and he had a younger brother Octavio whom we called Tavo. I spent a lot of time at his house because he was so cool.
When Carlos’s father wasn’t repairing his printing machine, he was repairing cars to sell. Once, my father sent me to ask Carlos’s father to borrow one of his cars so my father could go to work. My father had a car that didn’t always start up, so he bought a second used car as a backup. When the second car didn’t start up, my father told me to ask about borrowing their car. Carlos’s father told me to tell my father to ask for the car himself. I had told my father that he should have asked for the car in the first place, but he was too afraid. Finally, my father went and asked to borrow the car. He borrowed the car so often, that Carlos’s father told him that since he drove the car so much, he should just buy it. Eventually, my father did buy the car.
In the summer, I would go with Carlos and his family for ice cream and then we’d go cruising around Chicago. We usually went out after dark, got ice cream, and then drove around aimlessy for a couple of hours. Well, at first I thought it was aimlessly, but then I realized that somehow we always managed to drive by every strip club in Chicago on every ride. His father seemed to know where every strip club in Chicago was. These clubs featured nude female dancers whose shadowy silhouttes were visible against a white sheet in the front window. Of course, his father acted surprised as if he had inadvertantly come across the strip clubs by accident. Carlos’s mother would look at the nude female silhouttes unblinkingly and laugh extremely loud. Somehow, I got the idea that she liked these summer-night cruises just as much as her husband because she never once complained.
Carlos was the most popular boy on the block because was always so creative and energetic. He put on shows in his clubhouse, held raffles, organized clubs, and was just so much fun to be around. He could make everyone laugh. One day, Carlos announced the formation of a new soccer league, but he called it “fútbol” like our fathers did, which caused everyone to resist the idea of joining the league. But Carlos was so charismatic that he talked everone into joining. We would play for the World Cup, actually la Copia Mundial. He even showed the trophy that would be awarded to the winning team: It was merely a plastic coffee cup with one handle. He wrote the words “Copia Mundial” on masking tape and taped them onto the coffee cup. This was his mother’s favorite coffee cup and he didn’t want to ruin it and wanted to be able to return it to her intact just in case she discovered it missing. All the games would be played in his backyard, which was about 25 feet by 25 feet.
We were so full of questions, but he already had answers ready for all of them. He divided all the boys into teams of two, each representing a Spanish-speaking country. He and his brother Tavo would, of course, be Mexico. He made up posters that he hung around the backyard fence. He made charts with brackets of the team schedules. He was so contagiously into this, that soon, we were all into it, too. That is, until we actually started playing the games. You see, Carlos and Tavo were the two best players out of everyone in the league. They had actually played in soccer leagues when they had lived in Mexico. When everyone complained that team Mexico was undefeated and would go on to certain victory, Carlos started the tournament again, this time trying to balance the talent on the teams. Carlos and Tavo were now on separate teams and each was paired with the weakest players in the league. Of course, Carlos and his team Mexico were still undefeated. His teammate was supposed to play goalie and just stay out of Carlos’s way during the game. Carlos would attack and score goals. When the opposing team actually took a shot at Mexico’s goal, Carlos would push the goalie out of the way and block the shot himself. Eventually, Mexico went undefeated and won la Copia Mundial. Even though we knew we had no chance to win, we enjoyed all the excitement of World Cup action because of Carlos.
Then one day, I went to Carlos’s basement and I saw his father putting the printing machine into a wooden crate. Carlos and Tavo were packing there treasured belongings from their clubhouse. His mother was packing their clothes into boxes. The whole family was moving back to Mexico.