Alone at home on a rare, warm Saturday evening, ready to "bring the noise" to Pilsen, I'm interrupted on my way to the cuarto de los discos (room with phonograph records) by my dog's loud barking. Duke, a German shepherd, is going nuts on the enclosed porch in back. His bark is usually commensurate with any threat, and this is a three-alarm ruckus he's raising, so I have to dash to see what's up. Through my porch window I spot a human shape crouched near the exit door to the garage, just visible in twilight some ten yards across the yard. I don't dare leave; my dog might force his way out and "overreact," instinct on automatic.
The squatter doesn't acknowledge my first panicky shout of "Hey!," so I decide to hunt for a makeshift weapon. This is, after all, a neighborhood with a gang problem, not Brook Farm. Now I'm the one on automatic--my property violated by whom or what.
Just as I find a two-inch-thick pipe in a nearby closet, pounding footsteps echo from the cement gangway: somebody's hard shoes breaking for the front of the house and the open street! I reach the front door instantly, careful to leave my barking dog inside.
I peer over the closed gate leading to the gangway, the equalizing pipe by my side. I've won this foot-race if there was one. The intruder, still out of plain sight, looks up at me from the bottom of the stairs. Speaking Spanish nonstop and muy rapido, he ascends the steps slowly as a shadow and pulls into view.
He looks ancient somehow, his head a mosaic of dirt and facial hair; the body puny, weakly built. The wild beard tumbles onto a decomposing, terra-cotta-colored woolen coat. It's hard to miss his overpowering odor and his body-length look of surprise, as if he thinks he has been electrocuted for no apparent reason. The man rubs his belly and shakes his head while talking incessant Spanish.
"Quien es? Who is it?" I ask, my high-school command of his language not up to a serious interrogation. A minute later, I fish out the words "Cuba" and "Cubano" from his gently imploring run-on monologue.
"Tu eres Marielito?" I manage, referring to the much-publicized wave of immigrants who fled Castro in 1980. Feeling like a sneaky Warner Brothers cat with its back to a door, I do my best to conceal the equalizer.
"Si! Si!" He brightens. "Marielito!" like I hit the nail right on the head. He almost dances from happiness, passing through the gate I'm holding open. We both smile; there has been a connection. I even shake his outstretched soiled hand, thinking it will be over in a minute and there's Irish Spring in the bathroom. The Marielito, still smiling, treads down Avenida de Isla Azul (Blue Island Avenue), still pressing his stomach.
You don't see his kind of homeless person on the street in daylight, I consider. Who could imagine this guy having regular contact with people? A troglodyte would be more plausible. I just barely overcome the impulse to chase after him and offer money.
Relieved and light-headed, I return to the porch to let Duke out. He remains agitated, sniffing compulsively near the garage. Approaching, it hits me, literally: the guy has shit in my backyard! The sick-looking feces reek from a swirl of garbage--coiled wrappers and windblown junk on concrete! The stench is unreal!
I lock up the dog, try to forget my eyes and nose, and clean the mess up with a coal shovel. Days later, the smell is still there.