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Work of Art: Not a hothouse plant

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By Art Trujillo

A couple of nights last week might have been the coldest of the season. Whether it froze or snowed depends on whom you talk to. Regardless, many people needed to crank up their thermostats.

There appears to be no time of the year when there’s such a range in temperature variation. I’m a cool-weather fan myself, and autumn is by far my favorite season. Any temperature above 75, regardless of season, makes me feverish. It’s fitting and perhaps ironic that many summers I spent in hellholes, which make Las Vegas seem frigid, even though Las Vegas itself is warming (but that’s a topic for another column).

I do not consider myself a hothouse plant. My mom, the late Marie Trujillo, had the middle name “Remijia,” but it should have been “Triple Bagger,” in that she dispatched all five of us siblings to school dressed not to the nines but to the tons. “That’s so you won’t get cold, Hijito,” Mom would explain, as she placed another layer of clothes on me. She could have performed special effects for Dante’s Inferno.

Any extant family photo invariably shows me dressed in three layers: a tee shirt covered by a long-sleeve cotton shirt, and a sweatshirt on top of that. We generally left the house on the way to Immaculate Conception School six pounds too heavy.

My mother failed to realize that gee, Mom, it’s 45 degrees this morning, but by afternoon it’ll be 85. Honest.” And it usually was. I envied those who arrived at school wearing only a single thin shirt; they shivered in the a.m. but became comfortable in the p.m.

To my mother, it was apparent that cold stood for evil. Why does “cold” get such a bad rap, as in “cool reception,” “cold shoulder” and “icy stare,” with such sinister connotations? And why do “warm heart,” “hot tamale” and “toasty, cozy apartment” conjure up pleasant thoughts?

In elementary school one year, my class drew the distinction of being in a cellar room. Rather than individual, self-contained desks, ours were shared, slide-through outfits with a flip top.

My seatmate Robert and I resided all day next to a pre-historic steam radiator, powered by Lucifer himself, that increased heat and humidity. The constant cloud near us had its perks as well: it made it less likely for our teacher, Sister Mary Tempus Fugit, to see us when asking complex questions with impossible answers: “Arthur, does a planarian have a colon? Does the tapeworm have a mouth? Are the uropods of crayfish of the north side or the south?”

The questions themselves were designed to generate heat, and being overdressed made us sweat. The variety of clothes wasn’t great, and if the hand-me-down coat I wore that year was w-a-y too heavy for the occasion, well, tough.

After school many of us sold the Optic. The profit margin was two cents a copy, a bit less than what Bernie Madoff made off with before getting a perch at the Crossbar Hotel. And the competition was fierce.

Many Optic sellers claimed seniority and defended their turf with threats (and sometimes delivery) of violence. The old Safeway-Western Drugs block was the Meadow City equivalent of Boardwalk and Park Place, and there were other prime areas, notably El Fidel, Murphey’s and East Lincoln Avenue.

How I lucked out was amazing. I began on Baltic Avenue, but the established Optic sellers kept pushing me farther north on Grand, where I discovered the Hillcrest Restaurant, the 85 Coffee Shop, El Nido, the Bottle Shop, the Sunshine Court and La Loma Motel. That was a gold mine. It seemed as if no other Optic peddler had ever even heard of life north of Washington Avenue. Few people today remember all these sites, most of whose names and functions have changed in the past six decades.

On my first day in this uncharted territory I sold 20 copies, much more than my daily average, and I had that turf to myself for months — until someone bigger desired a slice of the pie. “I was here before you were even in diapers,” he said.

The bigger kid, Reynaldo, was a nasty, ill-natured being who appeared to have been born 40. Like me, he wore a coat too heavy for the season, and his hands constantly displayed dozens of cuts. He had a chronic cough, which he didn’t cover up. I felt sorry for him. In those days, clothes were an accurate indicator of social status.

The kids from more affluent families wore gabardine and other washable clothes. People like me resembled triple-layer burritos, and Reynaldo, well, his clothes were often tattered. I knew he must’ve suffered, having to wear that heavy coat all day. Removing it for the afternoon heat wave was not an option either. We sometimes lost them, left them, forgot them, or had them stolen. And that opened up a new set of problems.

Somehow, we became pals. I gave Reynaldo my own coat, newer and not so heavy. I know he appreciated the gift, but to save face, he bragged to his buddies that he’d forced me to give it up.

Yeah, right!

My act of charity didn’t sit well with my parents. Would they have been cooler about the coat transfer if I’d told them Reynaldo forced me to surrender it? Regardless, I soon donned a hand-me-down replacement that was bigger and bulkier than the original.

Nevertheless, I accepted my lot, sweaty but glad to earn my keep for the day.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to artbt@rezio.net or atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.