What is this about?

Drinking Buddy

Salvador was from El Salvador and yes, that was his name and yes, that’s where he was from. I met him when I was living in Hollywood with my mom in 1977. We both delivered newspapers for the Herald Examiner back then. His paper route was adjacent to mine.

Weird looking kid. Bone thin, bad acne, broken nose, buggy eyes and an afro that was near-ridiculous in its dimensions. Looking back, I’d guess he must’ve been half black, but shit like that is unimportant when you’re a white kid living in a neighborhood where you’re the minority.

All that mattered was that he was cool, even with that outrageous hair.

The afro must’ve had a diameter of two feet — but wiry and teased, not thick and tight like some kind of Angela Davis-looking thing. Still, he managed to hide all sorts of things in that hair. We’d be sitting there in the summer afternoons at the drop-off point at 3rd Street and Wilton Place waiting for our supervisor to pull up with our bundles, and he’d reach in and come out with gum, toothpicks, a comb, cigarettes, matches, pens, pencils — even a joint, which he was kind enough to share with me one day after the distributor made his drop and left.

Like I said, he was cool.

So I smoked my first marijuana there in that empty parking lot after we rubberbanded our newspapers. Slightly buzzed, we decided to ride along with each other on our routes and headed first to deliver my papers in an area bordered by Melrose, Western, Beverly and Wilton. Sal’s route was to the south, boundaried by 3rd Street, Western, 6th and Wilton.

An hour later we were done with my deliveries and biking down to Sal’s territory. Midway there, on St. Andrews, south of Beverly Boulevard, he came to a stop by this convertible Mustang parked with its top down. Pulling up alongside him, I saw he was looking into the back seat where there was a grocery bag and a sneaky look in his eyes as he took a look around.

In a flash he yanked the bag and went tearing off. I raced after him until he finally slowed to a stop at 3rd. When I rode up to him, he had this huge smile on his face as he pulled two bottles out: plain-wrapped booze from Ralphs supermarket. One simply read WHISKEY in between two baby blue lines the other VODKA.

“Which one do you want,” he asked. I hesitated and he answered the question for me by thrusting the whiskey bottle toward me. I grabbed it and watched as he pushed his bike over to the curb, twisted the cap off and took a swig of the vodka.

Following his lead, I turned the cap off the whisky, watching as the paper band tore apart. Tentatively putting the bottle up to my lips, the pungent smell of the contents hit my nose.

“Go ‘head!” Sal urged, while taking another pull of his own.

I do, and the sour liquid filled my mouth. I swallowed hard and felt it burn all the way down. It wasn’t my first time drunk, but it was my first time with hard liquor.